Flint, MI—Genesee County’s returning citizens now have more support in obtaining state IDs.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced this week that her mid-Michigan mobile office will begin regularly visiting the Genesee County Jail to provide state IDs to the county’s returning citizens.

“We are bringing our services directly to people in challenging circumstances, assisting them in securing a state ID to re-enter their community, restart their life, and find gainful employment,” said Benson.

Mobile office staff visited Genesee County Jail on April 24, 2023, for the first time, and Benson’s deputy chief of communications, Angela Benander, later confirmed they were able to provide 23 state IDs and driver’s licenses that Monday.

The initiative is important, said Johnell Allen-Bey, because not having a state ID can be a huge barrier to residents’ re-entry into their communities.

Allen-Bey works with both the sheriff’s office and Nation Outside, a Michigan advocacy organization led by justice-impacted and formerly incarcerated people.

“It’s very important because the first thing that usually happens is when you leave jail or prison, you usually have a check, and you can’t cash a check without ID,” he said. “So most people run through the difficulties of not having access immediately to their own money because of the fact that they don’t have a state ID.”

Allen-Bey explained that not only is there that immediate financial hurdle, but the hurdles can then start to compound.

“If you don’t have any type of birth certificate and forms of ID, you can’t get a driver’s license,” he said, noting that you also may not be able to apply to jobs or get to that job without such documents. 

“So what the Secretary of State is doing now is very important … to re-enter society,” he said. “Without that identification, it’s impossible for you to be able to move like you need to move as a returning citizen.”

Benander said the Secretary of State was taking the Genesee County sheriff’s and clerk’s offices lead on how often the mobile unit should come to the jail, but she did note that they’re planning on visiting roughly every 90-days for now.

Allen-Bey said he’d like to see that turn into once a month, as there are always people cycling through jail who deserve access to such a service.

In the meantime, though, local partners in the initiative were happy to get started.

“I try to never take for granted the basic needs in my life when I see others that have to fight for them,” said Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson on Monday. “Today, it was a simple photo ID.” 

Domonique Clemons, Genesee County Clerk/Register of Deeds said he recognized the importance of the new service and his office’s role in supporting it.

“A birth certificate or state identification may seem like a small thing to many, but for returning citizens and those actively involved in the justice system, there are often additional barriers they must overcome to have access to these vital records,” he said in a statement. “As Clerk/Register I am committed to working to make our process easier and more accessible for all Genesee County residents.” 

According to a Secretary of State press release on the matter, the Genesee County partnership expands on a similar partnership Benson’s administration launched with Kent County and the West Michigan mobile office in December 2022. 

Collectively, the program has provided driver’s licenses or state IDs to nearly 100 Michigan citizens in Kent and Genesee counties. 

Benson’s office is now looking to launch similar partnerships across the state with already active mobile offices, as well as find funding to open four more such offices in other areas of Michigan.

The Secretary of State’s mid-Michigan mobile office, which serves Genesee County, launched in January 2023.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....