Pioneering ID Initiative for Cook County Jail Inmates to Facilitate Reintegration in Chicago

Pioneering ID Initiative for Cook County Jail Inmates to Facilitate Reintegration in ChicagoSource: Facebook/Cook County Sheriff's Office (Official)
Damon R. Sheffield
Published on December 11, 2023

Inmates stepping out of the Cook County Jail will soon find it easier to re-enter society, thanks to a novel ID initiative launched by Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, as per an announcement made at 555 W. Monroe St., Chicago. This innovative program, which is said to be the nation's first at a county jail level, will ensure that individuals on electronic monitoring receive state ID cards crucial for securing housing, employment, and further societal integration, as detailed in a press release from the Cook County Sheriff's Office and corroborated by reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times.

With 2,300 eligible detainees awaiting trial, the partnership represents a significant leap forward it bridges a long-standing gap for inmates who formerly found the post-release landscape filled with bureaucratic hurdles. Sheriff Dart revealed his ultimate aim to extend the ID application process to all detainees during intake, offering them an immediate shot at flipping their fortunes upon returning to community life, a plan in line with dealing with the "transience" of inmates whose previous ID application efforts were often disrupted due to early release Sheriff Dart explained, “For folks who come into our custody, an ID isn’t just a nice thing to have in your wallet. It’s the only way you can get a job, or a work permit, or find housing,” in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

This collaboration aligns with the Safer Foundation's endeavors, where Sodiqa Williams, the Senior Vice President of Reentry Services, highlights the vital role of such documentation, describing the lack thereof as "socially disabling" for those attempting to secure housing or re-enter society at large, an opinion shared by Jennifer Vollen-Katz, Executive Director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, who insists, "If we’re certain enough of a person’s identity to take away their liberty, we should be certain enough of who they are to give them an ID," exemplifying the community's support for the program as told to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The zero-cost initiative to taxpayers comes as a boon from Secretary Giannoulias' office, where plans to replicate this successful model across other Illinois detention centers have gained momentum Giannoulias himself praised the initiative, stating, “It’s enormously important to provide ex-offenders with essential resources and tools and hopefully make them self-sufficient,” Reinforcing the program’s intent to tackle reentry challenges and ultimately reduce recidivism, participants in the program are vetted for eligibility, ensuring some level of readiness by having an established address or access to vital documents, as highlighted during the announcement, a sentiment echoed by Giannoulias in his interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.