Updated: June 07, 2021 11:08 PM
Created: June 07, 2021 10:53 PM
A new law in Minnesota will help inmates successfully transition out of prison. Gov. Tim Walz signed the legislation in May, aiming to break down barriers to obtaining identification, health insurance and medication.
“It’s very important,” said Tami Tuthill, who is currently assigned to work release. “If you can at least come out with those three pieces of paper, that makes a big difference for you to go and set yourself up for interviews, jobs, for really anything — even your health situation. You do have to show an ID for everything.”
She is currently living at an R.S. Eden residential reentry facility. Tuthill was serving a 65-month sentence for drug sale when she was granted work release. Prior to her arrest, Tuthill struggled with an addiction to methamphetamine.
She spent about two and a half years at MCF-Shakopee before she was released in December.
“The transition was pretty scary,” Tuthill said. “It was the fear of the unknown because I knew that I was coming out to some more freedom from what I did have in there, obviously. … I was trying to think, 'What is going to make life easier for me to continue to do good in life?'”
The transitional home has provided structure and support. She also has her two daughters by her side as she rebuilds her life.
“I’m super, super proud of myself for being sober,” she said. “I’ve been sober since Nov. 5, 2017, and it's just a big accomplishment and I just want to keep moving forward with that every single day of my life.”
After leaving prison, Tuthill had to track down her birth certificate, Social Security card and try to get a new driver's license.
“Some of them want all three, some jobs, but it just depends on what you're looking for,” she said.
Tuthill was able to get two jobs, one as a customer service representative and the other as a cashier.
“It did take some time to get those jobs, due to the fact that I had to wait to get my driver’s license, get my car,” she said. “It’s been over a month, about five weeks now that I’ve sent in for my social security card and I’m still waiting for that to come back.”
Many inmates leave prison without those identifying documents, money, health insurance or a doctor.
“They don’t have a lot of those stepping stones to be able to successfully reenter the community,” said Caroline Hood, the president and CEO of R.S. Eden.
“Most folks are on some sort of supervision, so a parole or a probation, and you have to get a job, you have to show your parole officer that you're working towards gainful employment," Hood said. "But in order to work toward gainful employment, you have to get an ID. In order to get an ID, you typically have to go to the DMV. If you had fines on your license before you entered incarceration, you still have those fines.”
She explained how the barriers can snowball, preventing an inmate from successfully moving forward. Obtaining prescriptions can be an added challenge.
“It can take over six months to manage what they need to manage just to get an ID,” Hood said. “If they don’t have an ID, if they don’t have a doctor to immediately have an appointment, quickly they’re quickly going to run out of that supply. ... You can quickly decompensate if you're not on that regimen.”
The new law is tackling the complex combination. It passed with bipartisan support this year.
The legislation requires the Department of Corrections to help an inmate get primary documents, including a Social Security card and birth certificate. It also allows inmates to use their DOC identification card as a secondary form of ID.
“Frequently we will work with people to obtain their birth certificate for instance, but they may not have any form of secondary ID and so it really created a massive challenge for them,” DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said. “What this will do, really simply and quickly, is allow the use of that DOC-issued ID to complete the package and allow them to get a Minnesota state ID.”
The DOC already assists inmates if they request help obtaining primary documents.
“What this does is create a policy mandated and rounded in law, and that obviously elevates this so staff will be required as part of their checklist, and as somebody is preparing to release, that they're making sure they're working on all of those things because the law demands it,” Schnell explained.
In addition, the law requires the DOC to offer assistance signing up for health insurance and provide inmates with a one-month supply of any non-narcotic medications they've taken while in prison, with two refills.
“The overall plan is really to put people in the best shape possible,” Schnell said. “This transition from living in incarceration to living in the community is critical to their success. People struggle oftentimes within the first several weeks of their release if there is much more instability or the inability to access medical care or find a job because they don't have ID. Those are things that are ultimately going to increase the likelihood of failure, have them come back into our correctional facilities, or worse yet reoffending, which is not in anybody's best interest.”
Under the law, the DOC also must develop a plan to prevent inmates from becoming homeless when they’re released. Schnell has to present the plan to the Legislature by the end of October 2022.
The DOC will also be required to track the number of inmates who enter homelessness, including which prisons they have left.
Schnell said these initiatives will help them identify where supports are needed.
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