Ex-inmates to get free state ID cards, poor people still have to pay

By Catrina Petersen

(The Center Square) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to soon sign a number of new laws, including one that expands free state identification card programs for inmates who served time in county jails or Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities located in Illinois.

Opponents say law-abiding citizens who have never gone to prison have to pay a fee to get state-issued ID, but former criminals get the card for free through State Rep. Justin Slaughter’s legislation. Slaughter said ID cards are a big factor in reducing recidivism.

“Mainly we see a big difference in regards to housing, unemployment, establishing a bank account and these things are very important to address recidivism,” said Slaughter. “The county jails are voluntary, in terms of their participation in the program, there will be minimal to no cost to correctional facilities, and the Secretary of State’s office is committed to putting forth those resources that are needed to bring the ID card to fruition.”

Illinois citizens who have not been convicted or served time must pay a $10 to $20 fee to get a state ID card.

State Sen. Andrew Chesney questioned State Sen. Christopher Belt, who carried the bill in the Senate, on the Senate floor.

“I think our concern is that right now if you have a poor or working poor person in the state that is of the age of 18 to 64 they have to pay a fee of $20 for an ID, but yet you can be convicted by a jury of your peers, either for a felony or misdemeanor, and you get a free ID. I was wondering why this legislation wouldn’t include a free ID for those who are poor or working poor, of limited means, so they would also have that same benefit that we’re allowing those who have been convicted in that state of Illinois?” said Chesney

Belt said the legislation is specifically for those transitioning back into society. He said the goal is to help reduce recidivism.

During debate on the Senate floor, State Sen. Terri Bryant shared her concerns about the bill allowing inmates to take advantage of taxpayers. For instance, an inmate who gets locked up for a weekend might request that the Secretary of State give him or her a free ID.

Belt said this bill won’t apply to those incarcerated over the weekend or to those incarcerated who are in prisons or jails on furlough. A furlough is an authorized absence from a federal prison by an inmate who is not under the escort of a staff member, U.S. Marshal, or state or federal agents.

“I really think it [the bill] is for people who are incarcerated for a length of time and then are transitioning back into society, not those who will come in on a furlough or those who are locked up for the weekend, five days or six days,” said Belt. “The bill came from a federal probation officer who wanted to reduce the recidivism rate of those going out and then turning around and coming back in [to prison] because of the prohibitive factor of trying to get an ID.”

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