Cook County Jail’s ID initiative reshapes reentry

In a groundbreaking move, Cook County Jail has launched a first-of-its-kind program that promises to significantly impact individuals leaving incarceration. Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias recently announced on Monday, December 11th, a partnership that will provide free state identification cards to inmates upon release. This initiative, initially conceived as a pilot program on the state level, is now the first of its kind for a county jail, not only in Illinois but across the entire United States. The ripple effects of this program are far-reaching, particularly for organizations like Safer Foundation, dedicated to supporting individuals with arrest and conviction records.

The Program Initiative:

Government-issued IDs are often referred to as a “golden key,” unlocking opportunities for education, employment, housing, and government benefits. For those exiting the legal justice system, this initiative represents a significant step towards facilitating their journey toward rebuilding their lives. Cook County Sheriff Dart estimates that approximately half of those leaving the county jail lack a state-issued ID, emphasizing the critical role IDs play in successful reentry.

Sodiqa Williams’ Insights:

In a recent interview with WGN9, Sodiqa Williams, the General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Safer Foundation’s Supportive Reentry department, underscored the significance of this program for Safer Foundation clients. According to Williams, this program is a significant game-changer, especially since the first step for Safer clients is obtaining an ID. The wait for an ID is crucial time lost, and without it, they encounter obstacles in accessing essential resources, hindering their ability to successful reintegration into society. These critical resources include onboarding for jobs, securing housing, and accessing government benefits. Williams emphasized the urgency, stating, “Every day matters when you are reentering home, and you don’t have access to critical resources that you need.”

The Importance of Government-Issued IDs:

Government-issued IDs are not just pieces of plastic; they are keys to a brighter future. Giannoulias mentioned “A valid state ID will help them with basic needs like locating housing, securing a job, opening a bank account, enrolling in assistance programs, and attaining reliable transportation. Fulfilling these basic needs reduces recidivism, saves taxpayer money, and makes our communities stronger.” Thus, the initiative not only addresses individual needs but also contributes to public safety, promoting unity among our neighborhoods.

Program Implementation Details:

The program will initially work with individuals who have previously applied for a state ID or driver’s license, or those who have access to documents such as birth certificates and social security cards to apply for the first time. As per the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, the program will gradually expand to provide state IDs to everyone in Cook County Jail custody. With an estimated 10,000 or more inmates cycling through Cook County Jail every year, this initiative could have a profound impact on reducing waiting times for IDs through regular channels.


The Cook County Jail’s ID initiative marks a significant step toward redefining the reentry process for individuals with records. Safer Foundation clients, in particular, stand to benefit immensely from this program. By addressing the foundational need for identification, the initiative paves the way for a smoother reintegration into society, aligning with Safer Foundation’s overarching goal of reducing recidivism.

As we celebrate this milestone initiative, let’s continue to support organizations like Safer Foundation in their mission to empower individuals with arrest and conviction records. Explore the Safer Foundation website to learn more about our work and help spread awareness about the importance of initiatives that enhance the reentry process. Together, we can contribute to building stronger, more inclusive communities.


Original Article:

WGN9 Chicago News: Inmates leaving Cook County jail will receive free state ID cards