Blog

Life in Prison: A Loss of Liberty & Identity

20 Jul 2012


A person sentenced to prison will face different challenges for Identity Management; first of all their identity as they know it will change becoming mostly a number. In most countries as part of the registration process inmates will be given an ID number, which will be connected to their name and all known aliases. From that point onwards all internal and external communication will be addressed using that ID number.

The ID number will be used for booking visits, getting mail, buying goods inside the penitentiary facility and also will be linked to a PIN (personal identification number) for phone calls like in the UK. In countries like the U.S.A. the ID number will also be connected to a Social Security Number Card that inmates will need to submit as proof of identity if they want to participate in work or educational programs while incarcerated.

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Prisoners in the UK are not allowed to use computers or the Internet to send or receive emails; however there is an Internet service that makes it possible for friends and family members to send emails instead of regular mail. To subscribe to this service they need to create a login ID disclosing personal information (available to the authorities) and they need to give the ID number of the prisoner they want to contact.  

When visiting friends or family members proof of identity has to be produced, “the person visiting cannot possibly bring too much ID or too many proofs of address. Even my six month-old daughter needed a passport or birth certificate.” (http://www.firsttimeinprison.co.uk/) For UK prisons a visiting order must be filled including the names of all visitors, date of birth, address and relationship to the prisoner and a passport, birth certificate or driving license for each of them.

Countries such as the US and the UK have Home Detention Curfew / Electronic Tagging, a system by which prisoners are released early and fitted with an electronic tag around the ankle to monitor adherence to a specified curfew. The prisoner will be required to stay at a chosen address, normally for 12 hours each day (overnight), and a machine will be installed in the house which is able to identify the prisoner and verify whether the tag (and the prisoner) are within range.

Leaving prisons and jails present an extra set of identity challenges for prisoners. “Many people coming out of prison or jail are released without any official state identification other than a prison discharge slip or a department of corrections inmate card, neither of which are sufficient to obtain a job, place to live, public benefits, or necessities in the community. People who are incarcerated are very frequently separated from their “outside” possessions and even their “inside” possession as they are transferred within the system —birth certificates, social security cards, and state identification cards often disappear.”  (http://www.lac.org/toolkits/ID/ID.htm)

Without proper ID a bank account cannot be opened, services cannot be contracted, a lease contract cannot be signed and to obtain a job becomes a rather impossible task.

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Some countries such as the UK and US are trying to solve these issues. The USA government attempts to verify the prisoner’s identification and social security number before a prisoner is released from a state correctional institution. If the department determines that the prisoner is legally living in the USA, the department shall issue to the prisoner upon the prisoner’s release an identification card that the prisoner may present to obtain a driving license or to open a bank account.

In the UK, the Ministry of Justice through the National Offender Management Service has issued a form, the Identity (ID) for Bank Account Applications for all prisoners, to provide an agreed procedure for Prison Establishments to provide identification to banks to support the opening of bank accounts by those in custody.

Life in prison creates a different set of challenges for Identity Management not just for the inmates but also for everyone around them and not just during the incarceration but also after being released.

It seems that with a prison sentence the loss of freedom is accompanied by a loss of identity. There still are Identity Management issues but now they are created and controlled by the government and the system and reach beyond the sentenced prisoner to friends and family members.