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The Indiana Department of Correction and Bureau of Motor Vehicles work together to assist in reentry efforts.

The Indiana Department of Correction will release more than 18,000 offenders in 2010. Each of those offenders will face unique challenges as they prepare to return to their communities. However, one challenge that is not unique to any offender is the need for proper state identification. The idea of obtaining proper identification seems simple, but it is quite complex for individuals who may have never had the proper documentation necessary to obtain an ID. Indiana, under the guidance of Gov. Mitch Daniels, tackled this issue of identification as a shared responsibility between state agencies.

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In 2004, the department was chosen as one of the original Transition from Prison to Community Initiative (TPCI) states, as outlined by the National Institute of Corrections. Under the leadership of Commissioner Edwin G. Buss, the department has been able to maintain an active TPCI Steering Committee that is comprised of numerous state agencies. Through the Steering Committee, many partnerships have been formed to assist offenders returning to Hoosier communities. The partnership that the department forged with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) has been one of the most rewarding and beneficial to offenders as they prepare for reentry. This partnership enables all offenders to obtain a valid state-issued identification card prior to their release. BMV had been up to the challenge of assisting all of the citizens in Indiana in obtaining valid identification, and they were more than willing to assist a population that sometimes goes unnoticed.

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The department and BMV both recognized the need to serve those inmates released from incarceration and help them get past the roadblocks they faced without proper identification. Without a valid state ID card upon their release to the community, inmates faced many challenges surrounding employment, housing, obtaining benefits (such as Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and simply complying with the law and the need for proper identification. Therefore, in 2005, both agencies entered into their first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This first MOU outlined a unique process through which the department would house three separate limited license branches in facilities around the state. These three branches would have the ability to produce a state ID card if the proper documentation was provided to releasing inmates. The service provided was in line with the service any citizen of Indiana would receive if they walked into a license branch around the state. The three limited branches were housed at the Westville Correctional Facility, the Plainfield Correctional Facility and the Rockville Correctional Facility.

Through the MOU, department staff were trained by BMV staff to operate the limited branches. The department staffers were trained on the System Tracking and Record Support (STARS) network and how to input data into the system and complete transactions for the inmates just as if they were in the branch in their local community. Following the training by BMV, the limited sites became operational. The sites inside the institutions were successful from 2005 through the end of 2008. The department averaged approximately 350 IDs per year from the three limited branches combined. The MOU was able to serve approximately 1,400 inmates during the initial four years of its inception.

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Buss and Andy Miller, BMV commissioner, met early in 2009 to discuss the utilization of BMV's mobile unit inside Indiana's prisons. The two agencies had already formed a beneficial partnership in 2005, placing three partial BMV branches inside prisons to issue ID cards; however, both commissioners saw the value in being more mobile with the agencies' partnership. By utilizing the BMV mobile unit, the impact would be much broader and the agencies' ability to serve returning offenders throughout the entire state would be reachable. Miller believes in flexible, responsive government that is easily accessible and focused on serving customers on terms that are convenient to them. The mobile unit is a piece of BMV overall strategy to make services more readily available to local communities that don't have access to a local branch within close proximity, and its willingness to partner with the department is another creative way to utilize the unit.

The BMV mobile unit has been used at many events around the state of Indiana, including the State Fair and numerous days in rural counties. By partnering with the department, the BMV has become the model for other states when it comes to assisting releasing offenders with obtaining state identification. The mobile unit has visited numerous Indiana prisons during the past 12 months--Putnamville Correctional Facility, Westville Correctional Facility, Henryville Correctional Facility, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Edinburgh Correctional Facility, Indianapolis Reentry Educational Facility, Plainfield Correctional Facility, Indiana Women's Prison, Miami Correctional Facility and Rockville Correctional Facility all housed the unit. The unit was parked inside the fence at the facilities and was operated by BMV staff for up to two days at each location.

The partnership between the department and BMV resulted in 1,971 state ID cards for the inmates being released from the above mentioned facilities during a period of 19 days. That is a phenomenal amount, considering the BMV mobile unit rarely makes more than 100 cards on any given day that it is in use. The two agencies were able to deliver so many credentials because of the tedious and detailed work put into the two-day events by both prison and BMV staff. Department reentry staffers at each facility put in numerous hours preparing inmates for the process of obtaining their ID cards prior to the arrival of the BMV mobile unit at their respective facilities. By doing so, the number of inmates served at each prison was much larger than anticipated by either agency. BMV staff commented on how smooth the operations were at each facility and how much they appreciated the effort put in by prison staff prior to their arrival.

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Past Challenges

The partnership between the agencies that placed limited license branches inside three Indiana prisons was a ground-breaking effort. The agencies understood the need and both had the desire to ensure that inmates were going to be released with the best possible chance for success. Therefore, state IDs were delivered prior to their release. The large volume of inmates released per year by the department posed challenges for both the inmates and the communities to which they would be released. Both the department and BMV were able to take a step back and look at some of the challenges they were facing as it related to the MOU and their ability to serve the releasing inmate population. Some of the challenges were:

* Department staff were not as fluent in the BMV STARS system as they needed to be. Ongoing training and recertification in the network would be needed.

* The department did not have the ability to serve a large number of the inmates at the sites with the three branches.

* The partnership's ability to reach the maximum number of releasing inmates was limited due to the use of only the three branches.

* The department's ability to troubleshoot concerns during normal branch operation hours was limited.

In early 2009, Buss and Miller had a discussion regarding the MOU between the two agencies. These challenges were discussed thoroughly, and the two leaders spearheaded a new strategic partnership. That new partnership was the utilization of the mobile unit that was staffed by BMV personnel and operated as if it were an everyday BMV branch in the community. This new initiative has proved to be innovative and has given Indiana the opportunity to provide services to more returning inmates.

A Fresh Perspective

After a thorough review of the MOU that was in place for the first four years of the partnership, the two agencies met to discuss how to maximize the ability to serve the returning inmate population. Both agencies saw the successes and challenges of the previous work that had been done at the three limited branches stationed inside the walls of Westville, Rockville, and Plainfield and began looking at new innovative ways to expand services to the inmates leaving Indiana prisons. The commissioners quickly looked to the BMV mobile unit that had been in operation for two years. Through this new innovative partnership, BMV staff now oversee all aspects of the operations inside the prison walls. BMV staff ran the mobile unit just as if it were located in any rural county around the state. The inmates have to follow all of the same protocols they would follow inside a local branch, including the sometimes minimal waiting time, to receive their ID card. Upon completion of the transaction with BMV, the ID card is placed in the offender's reentry portfolio that is distributed to them upon their release. The process has been smooth and both BMV and department staff are proud of the service that is provided in a very organized fashion.

Moving Forward

Buss and Miller both have an understanding of the many obstacles facing offenders releasing back into communities in Indiana. Their commitment to serving was documented in early 2010 when a new MOU was signed by both commissioners allowing the agencies to partner for all of calendar year 2010. The agencies are in the process of scheduling the mobile unit into late fall to ensure the opportunity to secure proper ID is provided to as many releasing inmates in Indiana as possible. Beginning in April 2010, the unit was made available to the IDOC on a bi-weekly basis. The unit has visited six state prisons to date in 2010 with more site visits scheduled through November.

Other Reentry Initiatives

Indiana has also been involved in numerous innovative reentry initiatives during the past year. State government as a whole has grasped the concept that reentry is truly everyone's responsibility. Inmates releasing to one of 92 counties will need to obtain services from a variety of sources. Each agency in Indiana understands how vital its piece is to the success of communities and public safety as a whole. Ensuring a smooth continuum of care for each of the approximately 18,000 inmates released in Indiana is paramount, and everyone is taking on a piece of the puzzle.

In July 2009, the Indiana General Assembly passed Senate Bill 244. This bill mandates the development of a reentry account for each inmate in the custody of the department. On July 1, 2009, each inmate was required to develop a Financial Responsibility Plan (FRP). As a result, each inmate will now have a separate account that they will not be able to access until their release from incarceration. A portion of each inmate's state pay (dollars earned for his or her prison employment) based upon his or her pay scale will now be placed into the reentry account to assist with essentials upon release. This bill serves a couple of purposes for the inmate population. For the first time, department inmates are developing a personal budget. At times the dollars saved may not seem large, but the practice of putting money away is a true life skill to be learned. Second, inmates now have the opportunity to save money for housing, transportation costs, legal fees, reinstatement fees or any other roadblock that they may face prior to release. Through each inmate's individualized reentry accountability plan he or she is able to document those needs and develop a plan to address them.

Each inmate has the opportunity to obtain a birth certificate through an MOU with the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH). The inmate is charged $10 and the money can come directly from the reentry account. The department and IDOH have been working together for a few years to be able to provide this service to the inmate population. Inmates have an understanding of the importance of the birth certificate as it relates to obtaining a state ID, a Social Security card and other services that can be provided after identity has been verified.

The department has opened dialogue with the sheriffs who operate Indiana's county jails about the identification someone has on his or her person at the time of arrest. Current practice for the majority of the county jails in the state is for all items of value to be sent home to family or loved ones prior to adjudication. Often, when counties follow this common practice, items are lost. Inmates at the end of their sentences are then not able to locate those valuable pieces of identification and therefore face barriers upon their release. Discussions between each county and the department have been promising and a shift in practice is imminent. Inmates picked up in the county will have the ability to place their identification documents in a reentry portfolio that will follow them from the county jail throughout their incarceration. This shift in practice fostered by collaboration between the department and the Indiana Sheriffs' Association will benefit numerous inmates upon their release from incarceration and begin to remove some of the immediate barriers they face.

Final Thoughts

Indiana has seen a decline in its recidivism numbers the past three years, as shown in Figure 1. This decline is a direct reflection of the hard work and dedication that each of the department's 7,000 staff members exhibit on a daily basis. The department has worked diligently to share information and become a more transparent agency as it continues to look for partners in the community.

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Because of Daniels' commitment and Buss' focus on reentry initiatives, IDOC has been able to forge partnerships with state agencies and community advocates to enhance the state's focus on reentry. The department, under Buss' leadership, will continue to look at innovative and creative ways to provide services in the most cost-effective manner.

David S. Burch is director of apprenticeship and pre-release services for the Indiana Department of Correction.
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Author:Burch, David S.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:2300
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