Leaving prison? NC’s mind-boggling bureaucracy stands between you, a state-issued ID, and quite possibly your future.

One of the most pervasive challenges for people returning home from incarceration is also one of the least discussed: state-issued ID cards.

Many of us, myself included, take our identification cards for granted. I barely thought twice about it when I was asked for a copy of my ID to rent my apartment, apply for my last job, or enroll in school. That little piece of plastic, though, often stands between reintegration and recidivism for people returning home from incarceration in North Carolina. 

Over 22,000 North Carolinians are released from incarceration each year. Thousands of them find themselves unable to acquire a state-issued ID. The process is so convoluted for the re-entry population that it is nearly impossible for many returning residents. Even if these folks returning home do everything right, the path to freedom, to independence, has been so narrowly circumscribed by state bureaucracy that whether someone succeeds or fails is as much a matter of luck as it is of diligence and perseverance.

Yet, officials with the power to streamline this process, to make it at least fair, continue to drag their feet on this issue. For years, advocates and reentry providers have asked  the Department of Public Safety and NC Division of Motor Vehicles to collaborate on addressing this issue. Unfortunately, little has come from the process except unsuccessful efforts and more excuses.

Why? It’s hard to say, but an educated guess would have to be a lack of concern.

The state identifies people every day to charge, convict, and incarcerate them for years. Yet as soon as someone walks out of those prison gates, the apparatus of the state is overcome by bureaucratic amnesia. When that person shows up to the NCDMV to get a new ID post-incarceration, it’s as though the person never existed. They are required to secure a whole other series of documents proving they are who they say they are, including a social security card and birth certificate.

You may think to yourself that it’s not such a big deal. The big deal is actually a series of smaller obstacles that, for many, become almost insurmountable.

First, the birth certificate.

To get a birth certificate, you need ID. While you can technically use a prison-issued ID card according to the paper application, several local reentry service providers have found that, in practice, local Register of Deeds offices have refused to provide birth certificates without a state-issued ID, license or passport.

An NC birth certificate costs $24. For someone who has just left prison, $24 is often too much money. If they can scrap together $24 though, they still need to wait as long as five weeks to receive that certificate.

Worse yet, many incarcerated folks were not born in North Carolina. Several states’ vital records offices explicitly do not accept prison-issued IDs, set higher prices, and require even longer processing times than here.

Let’s say someone has managed to jump through all of these hoops to get a birth certificate. Next up is the social security card.

Guess what you need to get a social security card, in addition to a birth certificate? That’s right. A state-issued ID.

Let’s assume that even though you do not have a state-issued ID, you obtained your birth certificate (after five weeks of waiting) and miraculously have one of the few possible replacements for a state-issued ID: an employee ID, a school ID, a health insurance card with a picture, or a military ID.

It will still take another two to four weeks to receive your social security card. By the time you get the documents you need just to apply for a state-issued ID — again, even though the state was certain enough of your identity to lock you away for years — you will have been out of prison for over two months. 

If you apply for an ID card as soon as you have your other documents in hand plus another $14, you will get your state-issued ID over three months after you were released from prison. 

Over three months of not being able to apply for jobs or housing. 

Over three months of not being able to provide for yourself or your family. 

Over three months of being stagnant, waiting for the state to finally recognize your existence, waiting to start the life you planned every day you were incarcerated, fending off an old life that may be nipping at your heels.  

Perhaps the worst part about this system is how easy it would be to fix. While prisons issue their own version of ID cards to people upon their release, the NCDMV does not currently recognize these prison-issued IDs as a valid proof of identity. All of these bureaucratic challenges could be eliminated if the state would join a number of other states by making it mandatory for NCDMVs to accept prison-issued IDs and release paperwork as proof of identity and social security numbers. They could do this either by agency policy or statute. Easy. Inexpensive. Perfectly possible. 

It’s time for state agencies to start caring about the reentry population. More and more North Carolinians are released from prison every day. The least we can do as a state is give them the tools they need to survive, starting with state-issued ID. 

Yes, it’s a “climate emergency”

In this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing and other recent NC Policy Watch commentaries, reference is made on more than one occasion to the “climate emergency” that currently confronts the planet.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the use of this term has provoked some hostile responses from those who cling desperately to the belief that climate change is a hoax that’s been foisted on the public in order to…well…that’s never really been made clear.

A person named Bryan, for instance, apparently views the matter as some kind of nefarious political conspiracy. He wrote:

you are full of shit period.get your commie asses to another country and leave mine alone.

Another person, who chose not to give their name wrote:

Do you worship the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny? You certainly seem to have thrown yourself prostrate before the fraudulent political scheme of “climate emergency “. You articulate as though you are well educated, however the content of your work displays massive ignorance of the science of climate. Look for facts not propaganda.

While one supposes that the number of humans who would deny the reality of climate change and the environmental emergency it is precipitating is rapidly declining (heck, even major fossil fuel companies acknowledge this sobering and undeniable reality) it’s also never a bad idea to reiterate a few basic facts.

To its credit, the editorial board of USA Today did just that last week. Here is an excerpt from the editorial “Climate change is no longer other worldly, and inaction is no longer an option”:

The consequences of what mankind has done to the atmosphere are now inescapable. Periods of extreme heat are projected to double in the lower 48 states by 2100. Heat deaths are far outpacing every other form of weather killer in a 30-year average. A persistent megadrought in America’s West continues to create tinder-dry conditions that augur another devastating wildfire season. And scientists say warming oceans are fueling ever more powerful storms, evidenced by Elsa and the early arrival of hurricane season this year.

Increasingly severe weather is causing an estimated $100 billion in damage to the United States every year.

“It is honestly surreal to see your projections manifesting themselves in real time, with all the suffering that accompanies them. It is heartbreaking,” said climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

And for those who would like to read the actual words of scientists who’ve devoted their lives to this subject (and maybe consider once more who it is in this discussion that should be properly accused of believing in fairy tales), click here to read a summary of the key findings of a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The bottom line: No one would be happier than me to wake up one morning and discover that the nightmarish environmental crisis rapidly overtaking our planet was all a mistake/miscalculation (except perhaps the scientists who have to document the carnage). Unfortunately, that is not going to happen and it only compounds the tragedy and greatly hinders our ability to limit the damage that so many loud and badly informed voices still lack the open minds and courage to confront this hard truth.

Duke study highlights the need for in-school reforms to truly integrate schools

An innovative new study from researchers at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy examines the racial segregation that takes place within North Carolina schools, highlighting the need for more deliberate school-level policies to truly integrate schools.

While many studies have examined segregation across districts and schools, this study provides a rare, in-depth look at the segregation that happens within a school building. The report’s findings bolster the recommendations of education advocates calling for a deeper understanding of school integration that looks beyond simply moving students in one school building or the other.

The within-school segregation identified by the Duke report is often the result of student tracking – grouping students according to their (supposed) ability level. Tracking can be a problematic driver of inequality. First, the groupings may reflect the biases of educators or be a product of parental pressure, denying opportunities on the basis of race and class. Second, the “advanced” groups tend to be assigned to more experienced teachers with more engaging curricula, widening opportunities going forward.

Data confirms that students of color in North Carolina are frequently tracked into lower-level classes. CREED’s E(race)ing Inequities report detailed how students of color in North Carolina are underrepresented in honors and AP courses and have higher chances of being taught by novice teachers.

The Duke report finds that both middle and high schools, but not elementary schools, exhibit a substantial amount of within-school segregation. Interestingly, the researchers find that schools with lower across-school segregation often have higher levels of within-school segregation.

The researchers illuminate this point by contrasting segregation in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties. In the early 2000s, Mecklenburg County embraced a “neighborhood schools” approach and saw a substantial increase in segregation across schools. By contrast, Wake County embraced an integration policy, seeking to keep schools relatively balanced in terms of student income. But while Wake County’s schools appeared integrated, the researchers’ examination of classroom assignments found another story:

Although Mecklenburg County had by far the highest between-school segregation among the five, no county exceeded the within-school segregation levels of Wake County.

The researchers also find, somewhat surprisingly, that segregation between white and Hispanic students was more extreme than that between white and Black students. This is noteworthy as the share of Hispanic students in North Carolina schools has grown from 3% in 1998 to 17% in 2017.

Finally, the report found that Black and Hispanic students tended to be enrolled in less rigorous courses than their white peers. The underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students relative to white students in advanced courses means that “Black and Hispanic students in North Carolina are exposed to a qualitatively different curriculum than are White students, with the latter being more likely to be in advanced courses.”

In all, the report’s findings provide an important reminder real integration isn’t achieved simply by moving students between schools. Educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders must continue to push for policies and practices that harbor real integration at the classroom level.

The idea of real integration is best described by the student leaders of Integrate NYC, who have outlined the “5Rs of Real Integration.” Their framework includes specific policy recommendations under each of the following areas to create schools that are truly integrated:

  1. Race and Enrollment: Schools must provide a diverse and inclusive environment for every NYC public school student.
  2. Resources: Funding systems must provide equitable distribution of resources across schools to meet the constitutional requirements of a “sound, basic education.”
  3. Relationships: Schools must be considerate and empathetic of the identities of all students, focus on the power of different backgrounds, and act of build relationships between students across group identities.
  4. Restorative Justice: All high schools should be free of police and military presence, safe, free of metal detectors, protective of the integrity and humanity of each student, and help build student leaders.
  5. Representation: School faculties should be inclusive, elevating the voices of communities of color, immigrant communities, and the LGBT community so that student identities and experiences are reflected in the leadership.

Such reforms (more detail on which can be found here) are long overdue in North Carolina schools. As the Duke study documents, North Carolina schools remain far too segregated. As a result, Black and Hispanic students continue to be denied the same curriculum and opportunities being offered to white students.

Red state Medicaid expansion momentum continues to grow

Protesters in Missouri (Photo by Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent).

The refusal of Republican legislators to expand Medicaid in North Carolina continues to render our state more and more of an outlier — even amongst states controlled by GOP legislatures.

In just the past week, two dark red states — Oklahoma and Missouri — received new attention for making expansion a reality.

This is from a report from the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute:

Oklahoma successfully implements Medicaid expasnion

Since Medicaid expansion became an option for states in 2012, most Oklahoma lawmakers have been reluctant to take advantage of this life-saving opportunity, despite its health, economic, and fiscal benefits. In response to legislative foot-dragging, advocates leveraged the initiative petition process to put the issue to a vote of the people. In June 2020, voters passed the measure, enshrining Medicaid expansion in the state Constitution. After nearly a decade of opportunity, expansion became reality in Oklahoma on July 1, 2021.

More than 135,000 Oklahomans have already been approved for expansion coverage, and some 70,000 more likely qualify. With thousands of newly eligible residents able to see their doctors without financial stress, Oklahomans will be healthier people, better workers, and more financially secure. Expansion also will bring financial benefits statewide, with an estimated 27,000 new jobs, $15.6 billion in economic activity, and nearly $500 million new tax revenue in the first five years.

Implementation of Oklahoma’s expansion has been successful, largely because of legislative commitment to funding the program, our Medicaid agency’s prioritization of enrollment, and a unified effort by a broad coalition of advocates and community members. While the state’s seen a few growing pains,  thousands of Oklahomans newly have access to health insurance, financial stability, and peace of mind. (Read more…)

Meanwhile, the Missouri Independent reports that GOP efforts to block the decision of voters to expand Medicaid in the “Show Me” state have also foundered:

Missouri Supreme Court rules voter-approved Medicaid expansion is constitutional

Missouri must expand Medicaid to 275,000 eligible people who were expecting coverage under a constitutional amendment that took effect July 1, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In an unanimous opinion, the court overturned a trial court ruling that the amendment, passed in August 2020 was unconstitutional because it may increase the state’s cost for the Medicaid program. 

By funding the services required under federal law, the state must allow everyone eligible to access those services, the court wrote.

“With no ambiguity, the amounts appropriated and other extrinsic evidence cannot be used to alter the plain language of the purposes stated – to fund MO HealthNet without distinguishing between benefits provided to individuals who are eligible as part of the pre-expansion population and those eligible only under” the expansion amendment, the court wrote.

The ruling “is about as concise of a win as you could imagine for the people of the state of Missouri,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence. (Read more…)

In short, as it has for years now, the national momentum to expand Medicaid continues to pick up steam and the stubborn obstructionism of Republican lawmakers in the shrinking minority of states that includes North Carolina is looking more and more like the obstruction that so many Southern states pursue in resisting civil rights legislation in the mid-20th Century: i.e. doomed to inevitable failure.

The best editorial of the weekend: General Assembly leaders need to end this deceptive practice

Senate leader Phil Berger has made “gut and replace” one of his favorite legislative tactics.

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out the fine Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com entitled “‘Gut & Replace’ tactic hides legislators’ accountability to voters.”

At issue in the essay is the longstanding practice whereby state legislators evade their own rules (and public scrutiny) by bringing up and passing entirely new pieces of legislation out of nowhere late in a legislative session and well after the annual “crossover deadline” that’s designed to prevent such a possibility.

As the editorial explains, a bill is approved by one house and sent to the other to address a particular subject. Months later, the second house that received the bill, “guts” the measure and rewrites it to deal with an entirely different subject. Then the new bill is sent back to the house in which it started, where it can be approved in a single “concurrence” vote. Often the entirely new measure is not even reviewed by a committee when it returns to its original house, despite being in completely different form.

This is from the editorial:

“Gut & Replace.” It is a favorite strong-arm tactic of Senate Leader Phil Berger. There’s nothing new about this legislative version of “bait & switch.” It’s been used by Democrats as well as Republicans.

It is a troubling practice that destroys a basic pillar of representative government — the ability of voters to hold their elected representative accountable for their actions.

Berger has transformed “Gut & Replace” from a rarely used scheme into a routine way of doing the public’s business. The tactic takes a bill that has already been passed, deletes the content of that legislation and replaces it with whatever Berger wants. It transforms, not merely amends.

The editorial lists several recent bills in which this sketchy practice has been employed, including notably, a recent controversial bill to overhaul interscholastic athletics in the state that, as it was originally passed by the House unanimously, dealt with helping families dealing with autism.

As the editorial rightfully notes in conclusion:

This tactic makes things — the good or bad of the legislation; what needs it meets or misses; who it benefits or hurts – irrelevant. It renders critical votes moving it along in the legislative process meaningless.

“This is not a good way to do the peoples’ business,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat who’s served in the House for nine terms. She knows from where she talks. In 2010, after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster, she worked with others to take a Senate-passed environmental bill and transform it into the Oil Spill Liability, Response and Preparedness Act. “It was an emergency situation.”

There is no emergency concerning high school athletics, or the other issues now being rushed through via “Gut & Replace.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.