Temporary IDs offer former inmates a shot at a permanent life out of prison
Draper • There was little fanfare in the small room where Utah State Prison inmates sat on plastic chairs Tuesday, filling out papers with borrowed blue pens.
They checked off boxes, filled out their name and date of birth. They answered yes or no questions, confirmed they were U.S. citizens.
It wasn't exciting. But, offenders and officials said, it's so important.
"Offenders would get out of prison and realize they can't get a job, can't get an apartment, can't get anything without a state ID," said Capt. Bryan Taylor, who oversees inmate programming at the Department of Corrections. "Now, the idea is, with this, they can get employment right away."
About 50 prisoners released Tuesday became the second group of Utah offenders to receive state-issued identification upon their release from lockup.
A new collaboration between the state's Department of Corrections and the Driver License Division allows prison inmates to be issued temporary IDs that prison officials and state lawmakers hope will help ease the transition back to society and reduce recidivism rates.
The picture ID, printed on paper with "identifying security features," is good for six months after their date of issue. In that time, offenders are expected to make the IDs permanent by collecting the necessary documentation birth certificates, Social Security cards, a permanent address and returning to their local Driver License Division office.
Employment and housing are among five "main issues" that contribute to offenders violating parole and landing back in prison, Taylor said.
To prove its commitment to halting the revolving door offenders so often get stuck in, Taylor said, the state has agreed to cover the $18 per ID fee for any and all inmates who can't afford it.
"It's a big enough issue that we said, 'You know what? We need them to have these IDs, so let's just do it,' " Taylor said. "It wasn't worth it for us to haggle over the money."
The program was launched in 2013 when Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, got HB320 passed, enabling the state to issue temporary IDs. But it's taken more than a year to reach prison gates.
"There were a lot of difficult factors we had to overcome," Taylor said. "When we started working on trying to get [inmates] temporary IDs, we realized we had to get them up to the Driver License Division. That's hard to do when you're processing 50 to 60 people every week from all over the state."
Rather than bringing the inmates to the licensing office, they brought the licensing office to the prison.
The space, a small room just beyond the greenhouse, will service all state prisoners regardless of where in the state they're housed.
Aaron Hukill, 22, has been in the Gunnison prison facility for six months. On Tuesday morning, he boarded a bus to the prison driver license office in Draper.
Hukill has never had a driver license. He bounced his knees as he filled out his forms. He turned the papers over in his hand, looking for where he needed to sign his name.
"I've never done this," he said, sheepishly. "It'll help with me getting a job though. That's the main thing."
Hukill likes to cook. He hopes he can end up in a kitchen some day even if it's a fast food chain.
When he gets out of prison, he said, after cradling his 18-month-old son in his arms, priority number two is to spend his first week getting his documents in order. He's not going to let his state ID expire he's going to make it permanent.
John Fowers, 26, sat to Hukill's right.
Fowers has a job waiting for him, but that doesn't mean he underestimates the power a state-issued ID can have.
"You need it for everything," he said Tuesday. "Even buying cigarettes. I lost everything when I got locked up."
When Fowers is called to take his official photo against a turquoise backdrop pinned to the white cinder block walls he pats down his facial hair, sits up straight.
"It helps inmates that need something to get back on their feet,' Fowers said. "I know once I get back to work, once I have something productive to focus on, I'll be better off."
Though the temporary IDs were developed to help out the former inmates, the program has some unintended beneficiaries, such as disabled Utahns and the elderly, said Nannette Rolfe, director of the Driver License Division.
"It gives whoever needs it time to get their documents in order so they can obtain a more permanent identification," Rolfe said. "We originally had inmates in mind, but it helps so many others."