Identity Theft

A missing id is often a ticket back to the pen.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

FOR NEW PAROLEES hoping to stay out of prison for good, scoring public assistance is crucial. But few consider this obstacle: “You can’t get ID in this society anymore if you don’t have ID,” says Amy Blank, a researcher at Rutgers University. “If you want a birth certificate, you need a driver’s license. If you want a driver’s license, you have to have a birth certificate and a Social Security card. And to get a Social Security card, you have to have a driver’s license. It’s this crazy cycle.”

While studying a Philadelphia program that helped mentally ill ex-inmates transition back into the community, Blank found that virtually none of the 60 ex-cons she followed had IDs—the cards were either ditched during arrest or simply lost in the system. As a result, they had to wait weeks, sometimes months, for welfare checks, food stamps, and Medicaid benefits as they were bounced between government offices—a “brutalizing process” mentally ill parolees would be hard-pressed to negotiate alone, Blank says.

It’s not getting easier: In May, provisions of the Real ID Act set stricter documentation requirements for state-issued IDs, and Medicaid enrollees must now prove identity and citizenship. Prison authorities could create IDs for ex-offenders, Blank says, but some are wary since inmates can be booked under false identities. As a result, “these people are going back to using drugs, living on the street, engaging in prostitution—crimes that are about their survival—because it just took too long.”

The Mojo Prison Guide Menu


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend