by James A. Bacon
State prison inmates seeking to re-establish a productive life in society will find that task a little less intimidating thanks the efforts of Governor Bob McDonnell. A partnership between the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) has expanded into 12 correctional facilities and processed 500 identification cards for inmates preparing for release, the governor announced today.
DMV Connect identifies individuals slated for release within a month and collects the personal documents and application forms needed to obtain Virginia ID cards. DMV employees travel to the correctional facilities to complete the forms using a portable laptop and camera.
McDonnell has made it a goal to reduce recidivism rates in Virginia. “One of the main reasons released offenders find themselves back in jail or prison is because it’s difficult to fit back into ‘normal’ life,” he said in a press release. “Identification is necessary to confirm citizenship and identity. An official form of identification is also necessary to address basic needs such as opening bank accounts, entering public buildings and applying for jobs and benefits.”
Bacon’s bottom line: Normally, a story like this might have escaped my attention. But I have taken an interest recently in what Virginians are doing to reduce recidivism. Earlier this week, I visited Richmond City Jail and a halfway house in Richmond’s northside neighborhood. At the jail, I had a brief chat with Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr., who told me that McDonnell had visited the jail numerous times — a half dozen or more. The governor had spent many hours mixing with inmates and talking about their problems.
Undoubtedly, the governor heard the same things that I have been hearing on how difficult it is for inmates to plug back into society. Prisoners receive $25 and a bus ticket home, ill prepared to find housing and look for a job. Many end up in the same places, with the same crowds, that got them into trouble to begin with. Simple tasks like obtaining ID documents can be big obstacles, especially for men who never graduated from high school.
This is just a guess, but I can’t help but think DMV Connect arose from the Governor’s conversations with Richmond City Jail inmates. McDonnell also pushed legislation to restore non-violent felons’ right to vote and serve on juries, although a House of Delegates subcommittee failed to act on it. “While our administration has enacted the fastest and fairest restoration process in the history of the Commonwealth, it is still a burdensome process,” he stated in a press release last week.
I’ve been pretty tough on McDonnell for his transportation tax plan, which is nothing short of disastrous, but I have to give him credit for his quiet fight to help Virginia’s prisoners. There is little to gain politically from these initiatives. The governor is pursuing them because he feels they are the right thing to do. Having met some of the men who are trying earnestly to turn their lives around — to become better husbands, fathers and contributing members of society — and having heard the obstacles they face, I understand what McDonnell is trying to do, and I applaud him for it.