Do you remember when you got your first driver’s license or state-issued identification card? If you’re like most of us, there was a sense of pride and dignity in holding that piece of plastic. For many in Iowa’s correctional institutions, that sense of pride has been lost due to a loss of driving privileges. Regaining that sense of identity, whether that’s a driver’s license or an ID card, provides a fresh start and a vital element of future success.
The reasons behind the loss of a license are varied from the card simply expiring while someone is incarcerated to traffic offenses and fines that have caused driving privileges to be suspended. Working with the Iowa Department of Corrections to renew driver’s licenses or IDs to offenders on the path to release is one of the programs the Iowa Department of Transportation has championed for many years.
In April, this partnership moved one step further as the Iowa DOT’s Education & Information and Driver & Identification Services teams took to the road with DOT2Go at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. Staff assisted women by answering questions about driving records and eligibility, alternative modes of transportation and mobility, and issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards. More than 100 women were assisted with updating their information on file with the DOT, 25 were issued an Iowa driver’s license or ID, and countless perceptions changed.
Mindi Nguyen, Community Outreach Coordinator said, “This partnership highlights a shift in mindset for recognizing offenders as an underserved community, with a unique set of challenges and needs. This has led to a new opportunity to help people set a firm foundation for success outside the walls of the correctional facility.”
Multiple correctional staff and women shared their appreciation and gratitude to Iowa DOT staff for such a positive experience. Creating partnerships and opportunities for this often-forgotten community truly fills a gap, getting them one step closer to being fully prepared for release.
Rianna Lane, Hearing Officer from the Driver & Identification Services staff has been involved in the outreach program for years. She said, “Although we’ve been doing similar programs for quite some time, there are so many more options available now to help people regain their driving privileges sooner. Things like a payment plan for fines may not have been available to an offender before. It’s great to sit down and talk to these women and let them know their options. For some, getting their license back is much easier than they expected.”
Creating relationships with these women is one benefit Lane said boosts her spirits. “We want them to know we’re here to help. We want to do all we can to get them back on their feet. Having that identification is a huge part of reentry into society and if they can get that process started before they get out, they have a better chance of success. I like being a person who can help give them hope.”
For those who cannot regain driving privileges quickly, getting a valid ID card provides a benefit because a person needs a valid ID to qualify for many of the programs that help offenders succeed outside the prison. In addition, Nguyen and Jeremy Johnson-Miller from the Iowa DOT’s Public Transit Bureau are currently working on a new website that bridges the relationship between vitality, success, identity, and mobility. The project is deemed, ‘Get There Your Way’ and will provide Iowa DOT and partnering agency information, resources, and tools to better help community members navigate identity and mobility-related questions, including alternative transportation options for those who do not drive.
Nguyen said, “The best compliment and justification for continuing to grow these efforts is summed up by one of the women we assisted that day. She said, ‘“This opportunity is one of the best things the prison has done in preparing us for release.’”
The need for help isn’t exclusive to offenders at the Mitchellville facility. The Iowa DOT is planning to work with many other prison facilities around the state in an effort to get offenders driver’s licenses or ID cards, and alternative transportation information in advance of their release. Julie Johnson from the MVD Education & Information Team said, “We are currently discussing options to streamline issuance with the Iowa Department of Corrections. We would like to eventually be able to issue driver’s license and identification cards at each of the institutions for offenders prior to re-entry. Doing so will eliminate one barrier offenders face.”