Points of View

Why IDs are a barrier for Returning Citizens

Sam Stebbins

While the stigma surrounding a criminal history is a major barrier to gaining employment or housing for returning citizens, many face added struggles. One of these is lacking a state ID.


State IDs are essential for gaining employment, housing, and benefits. Unfortunately, many leave the criminal justice system without identification, making it next to impossible to for returning citizens to establish stable lives quickly. This can lead to higher rates of recidivism as a returning citizen runs out of legitimate options.


What’s being done

In 2012, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation to address this issue, stating that the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) must assist prisoners with obtaining identification documents as they reenter their communities. While MDOC and this legislation has made improvements, advocates, employers, and returning citizens themselves have noted that it is still fairly common to leave custody without an ID.


This is sometimes because it is cost-prohibitive and difficult to obtain documents necessary for a state ID. In order to obtain an ID, individuals must often present at least two documents verifying their identities, which can include a MDOC prisoner ID. However, additional documents such as a school record or birth certificate, in addition to proof of a social security number and proof of Michigan residency are required.


In other states, standardized systems are in place to ensure that all returning citizens have state identification upon reentry. Often, this system is a simple exchange of corrections department identification or other prison documentation for a state-issued ID. These eight states are:

  • Florida,
  • Maryland,
  • Minnesota,
  • Mississippi,
  • Missouri,
  • Nevada,
  • New Jersey, and
  • Wyoming.


How employers are affected and what they can do

This issue affects employers because it shrinks their talent pool. Even those who are committed to including returning citizens in their workplace lose additional talent because of a lack of state IDs.


However, employers can become advocates for returning citizens. The Talent 2025 Returning Citizens Working Group is currently researching the issue and potential solutions to ensure all Michigan returning citizens leave the criminal justice system with proper state identification.