Florida inmates completing their sentences walk out of prison with a change of clothes, a bus ticket home and $50. But many ex-offenders lack the most important asset to help them re-enter society — a state-issued photo identification card. State and local officials should be able to correct the situation without waiting for the Legislature.
Without the most basic ability to identify themselves, ex-convicts can't apply for a job or even open a bank account. And that is a dangerous recipe for recidivism. But the Florida Legislature this past session failed to pass a broader measure designed to help inmates re-enter society that included help in getting an ID card. Providing offenders with an ID so they can get jobs and become productive members of society is not being soft on crime. It is common sense.
As Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet reported, about 100 inmates are released every day from state correctional facilities. But many of them are consigned to nonperson status after they return home because they lack a government-issued identification card. The Florida Legislature had an opportunity to fix that with HB 7121. The House passed the bill, which would have created a sensible program to help inmates with less than three years to serve prepare for life outside prison, including tracking down birth certificates to get that much-needed ID. But the bill died in the Senate, and Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar bill in 2012.
The state's 67 tax collectors could have the answer. Florida law allows tax collectors to waive the $25 state fee for an ID card for anyone claiming to be homeless. Many tax collectors, including those in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando and several other counties, also have waived their own $6.25 processing fee for the cards. The same consideration given homeless citizens could be extended to released inmates. Waiving the ID card fees for ex-offenders would be a modest investment in rehabilitation compared to the expense sending former inmates back to prison for committing more crimes.
The state of Florida has an interest in making sure ex-offenders remain ex-offenders. Helping men and women released from prison to obtain a government identification card would be an important step in meeting that goal.