Tackling prisoner re-entry obstacles, like getting an ID

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January 20th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Over the summer, the KVNO Newsroom reported on some challenges facing ex-offenders – like finding housing and employment – when returning to their communities. But there are other obstacles, which can be overlooked, like something as simple, and essential, as getting a state ID card. Wednesday, at a prisoner re-entry workshop held by Omaha’s Weed and Seed program at Metropolitan Community College, the conversation continued.

About two dozen administrators, political representatives and some ex-offenders gathered to at the workshop. Charles, a former prisoner, who only used his first name, spoke up at the close of the morning session. He asked the panelists if this group would be working with soon-to-be released inmates. He wanted to know if they’d get help finding correct information about getting a new Nebraska ID card when they’re released.

“One of the big things was my ID from the Nebraska State Penitentiary,” he said. “I was told before I left that I could use that to get a Nebraska ID. You can’t use that. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get my ID.”

A couple of solutions were offered to Charles, who said he served two and a half years in state prison. One service provider emphasized the importance of communicating with inmates inside prison walls, to find out about the kinds of problems Charles raised.

Bruce Vander Sanden is the workshop facilitator and the site coordinator for the Federal Weed and Seed program. He said in Iowa, state agencies work together to help re-entering citizens get proper identification.

“My thought is Gee, the Department of Corrections is a state agency correct? Who else in the state issues IDs, who’s in charge of that? If DOC and DOT (Department of Transportation) is a state agency why can’t we merge the two and empower somebody within the prison walls to issues the IDs before they come out?”

The workshop continued through Thursday, and included representatives from the Omaha Police Department, Heartland Workforce Solutions and the Douglas County Department of Corrections. The workshop was part of a 16-month projected funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, and designed to tackle prisoner re-entry problems collaboratively.

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