Thursday, July 01, 2010

DPS balking at issuing driver licenses to inmates

It'll be awhile before the Department of Public Safety begins to comply with state Rep. Sylvester Turner's  HB 2161, which requires Texas state agencies to facilitate getting drivers' licenses to former inmates upon release.

Although Turner's legislation directed DPS to enter a memorandum of understanding with TDCJ and  the Department of State Health Services to get departing inmates ID, DPS Director Steve McCraw testified at yesterday's House Corrections Committee hearing that he wasn't willing to commit to complying, claiming to do so would cost too much money. He suggested instead that DPS create a mobile licensing station as a "pilot" program for $600,000. Some inmates would need driving tests to get a license, he said (though as a practical matter, such folks could just get a state ID card), and the Real ID Act requires fingerprint verification and other security measures that complicate issuing licenses remotely.

From the dais, Rep. Jerry Madden pointed out that TDCJ is a criminal justice agency that's fully capable of taking fingerprints or performing other tasks, and said there was no reason two state agencies couldn't figure out how to delegate those duties through the memorandum of understanding required by law. McCraw said he'd consider that, but the committee seemed unsatisfied with his answer and several disparaging references were made throughout the day about the state's seeming incompetence to get this done after many years of debating the topic. A consultant from the National Institute of Corrections pointed to the discussion later in the hearing to make the point that government creates many of its own problems. No inmate was responsible for why the state couldn't get them IDs upon release, she said; it was the state's failure causing the barrier.

One reason, I'm sure, for legislators' frustration is that DPS was asked while the bill was pending how much it would cost them to implement the program. The Department of State Health Services said it would cost them $1.5 million per year to comply, but here's what DPS told the Legislative Budget Board according to the fiscal note:
To maintain security to the driver license identity program, the DPS Driver License Division would create a process to accept identifying information from TDCJ and current offender photographs to produce Texas Identification Cards. Modifications to the existing driver license system to create a program to enter, scan, and produce the ID card will require programming estimated to be $56,400. Additionally, costs associated for an image collection application to be developed and manually scan the offender photograph and signature into the driver license system for the ID card is estimated to be $32,000. DPS anticipates one additional FTE (A15 classification) would be needed for this project. DPS has determined that costs associated with implementing the bill would not be significant and could be absorbed with current appropriations.
Now, though, McCraw says it will take five FTEs just to do the pilot, and more if the Lege wants to roll out the program to all inmates, which at 72,000 released per year, he complained, amounted to a "mid-sized city." But that's about the same number released last year and the year before. The agency should have anticipated these costs just as DSHS did instead of lowballing the fiscal note then refusing to comply with the statute after it's passed.

McCraw said the Real ID Act requires certain tasks (like fingerprinting) be performed in person in order for the license to be a "federal purpose document" that allows travel on airplanes, etc.. McCraw seemed resistant to Madden's pragmatic suggestion that DPS delegate duties performed at driver license offices to TDCJ, though he identified no legal or practical barriers to doing so and such duty sharing is clearly anticipated in the bill language about the MOU.

TDCJ's Brian Collier told the committee that, according to their research during implementation, 73% of inmates had some history with DPS - either a driver license or state ID - in the past, and those with shorter sentences like state jail inmates often still have current ID. The other 27% have no such record, usually because they're from out of state, though the agency is studying further the makeup of that group.

McCraw said it's in DPS' interest to deal with inmates before they leave prison instead of having 72,000 more customers at driver license offices, but I wondered as he was speaking if that's really true. Could DPS' hesitation stem from fear of lost licensure revenues? If DPS issues licenses to prisoners, they don't get the associated $24 fee. When an ex-inmate shows up at a driver license office with birth certificate in hand, DPS gets paid. If 73% of exiting prisoners each year pay that $24, that's just more than $1.25 million in lost revenue.

The good news, reported Dee Wilson, who runs TDCJ's new Reentry division, is that inmates are now leaving TDCJ with sufficient documentation (usually a birth certificate and social security card) to get their own driver license when they leave custody. By this time next year, she said, she expected to be able to tell the committee that all 72,000 people released from TDCJ will have either the birth and social security documents or a DPS ID when they left custody.

Chairman Jim McReynolds said the idea behind the bill was that offenders would leave TDCJ with a DPS ID or driver license in hand when they walked out the door. He pointed out that the first two months - and he could have added the first few days - after release are critical to whether or not someone recidivates, so creating a gap during that period without ID problematically thwarts the intent and specific dictates of the bill.

McCraw's intransigence seems particularly inexplicable when compared to the agency's TDEX database (Texas' version of "Total Information Awareness" and one of McCraw's pet projects from when he was the governor's homeland security director). For that project, there seems to be no end to the spare cash the agency can find lying around in the couch cushions. But the whole Big-Brotherish TDEX boondoggle has never resulted in a documented arrest nor terrorist act prevented, while facilitating prisoner reentry has direct, immediate and positive public safety impacts.

Wilson and TDCJ should be commended for getting as far as they have - leaving prison with that documentation is a lot better than nothing - but it's depressing the state as a whole can't figure out how to get this done.

MORE: Tela Mange, public information officer for DPS, emails to say "By the way, DPS does not retain any of the money for DLs/IDs. All that $ goes to GenRev." Duly noted, and thanks, Tela, for the clarification.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recently moved from Texas to Arkansas and was surprised that when I went to get my Arkansas license it was produced right there in the office and I was handed the card right there. I wondered why in Texas you are given a paper card then sent the actual license in the mail. The Arkansas license has all the same security features and is just as fancy as the Texas license. I saw the machine it was produced with. It wasn't very big (smaller than a fax machine) and probably doesn't cost that much. I don't see how it could cost that much or be that difficult to issue drivers licenses to inmates. It sounds like DPS is just making excuses.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Pennsylvania 13 years ago, they had this same machine. License was printed while you wait. Not sure why Texas is so hard-nosed about everything!

doran said...

Its the law enforcement mentality. DPS people, apparently from the top down, want to be in control. They will ignore the Legislature, do whatever delaying tactics are necessary, procratinate, carry on, whine and complain, to avoid giving up any of their authority over people.

It oft-times appears to me that DPS sees most Texans as something akin to a large herd of cattle, which need to be guarded, kept in line, told what to do and when to do it, and otherwise shoved around to meet the demands and desires of DPS.

Anonymous said...

Doran ... shut up and go eat your hay.

TDCJEX said...

There is not any real reason a person cannot leave TDCJ with a drivers license in hand . It is a matter of state agencies being willing to give up a small part of their turf and work together . TDCJ is fully capable of creating the physical ID it self they already have the machines . They are used to make the ID you must have at all times. I don't see why they cannot make a drivers license or state ID . There are plenty of ways to issue a drivers license . Some trusties already have them . Dorans reason are the real reasons . TDCJ sees humans as a number to be shoved around literally in many cases .

TDCJ already shares information with DPS I am sure they can provide a drivers license or ID will the little expense or charge a small fee say $ 5or less , to cover the cost and sound “tough on crime” . The excuses are all BS .

. There is not any reason there cannot be a specif day or for that some one a guard who is trained for example give them a driving test. Lets be realistic a prisoner who is going to b released shortly is not gong to pull any thong stupid .

As for Real ID
If TX wants to show how it is anti big government try imitating those bastions of liberalism called NH, VT , ME and Colorado . Who said no to real ID and took it to court and won . Those states all happen have less restive gun laws than Texas ! The all have less felonies and percentage of their population incarcerated than Texas too imagine that ! None of them have oyster or goat felonies .

Anonymous said...

TDCJex .... your post just showed why DPS doesn't want to be dealing with TDCJ personnel. My guess is you won't understand what I'm talking about, either.

doran said...

Well, Anon 9:18 [or should I say, "tex"] what is your point? Try to think it through before responding.....

Tex said...

Well Doran, my point is that you're falling in line with the rest of your liberal friends instead of thinking for yourself. It's commonly referred to as a "herd mentality" so I thought it appropriate that you mentioned cattle. Your bias is showing.

K. D. Davis said...

Who cares if an inmate leaves prison with an ID or DL? I don't. We owe them nothing. Let them fend for themselves in a DL office just like the rest of us.

This "hug a thug" mentality gets on my nerves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

KD, you would only care if you want fewer people victimized by crime. If you don't care about reducing crime, fine, blow it off. Me, I think if it's worth incarcerating somebody, it's worth spending the effort to make sure they don't start re-offending when they get back out. You can't function without a valid ID in this society and failing to give them one increases the likelihood they won't succeed on the outside. That results in more crime and higher costs for taxpayers.

Speaking of which, I'll bet high taxes get on your nerves, too, which is why it's hard to see why you wouldn't prefer if ex-prisoners are working and paying taxes instead of unemployed and robbing your house for grocery money.

Tex said...

Amen, K.D., Amen!

Tex said...

Hey Grits, the convicts didn't function in society PRIOR to going to prison. That's why they're in the prison. To think that giving them an ID will somehow make them function in society is akin to sticking your head in the sand. It makes folks like you feel good about yourelves with your self-indulgent BS, but it serves no actual purpose. I realize you worked for the ACLU and automatically think that anyone who doesn't think like you tends to show their Neanderthal roots. But what you obviously haven't noticed while living in TX is that Texans tend to be realists. You want to stop recidivism in prisons? Make it so miserable that the criminals won't want to come back. How about that? Let's make them make the decision to stay out of prison. Flame on!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Tex, we've tried exactly that approach for the last 30 years, and the results turned out to break the bank.

This is not a silver-bullet cure-all, but there's a lot of solid, evidence-based research saying it's a significant barrier to successful reentry, whatever sweeping generalizations you might personally carry around in your head.

And if Texans are such realists on these matters, why do they demand "tuff on crime" measures then fail to raise taxes to pay to incarcerate them all? We could incarcerate a lot more folks if every anonymous schmuck calling for mass incarceration also championed raising taxes to pay for it (preferably under their own name instead of taking cheap shots while hiding behind anonymity). Are you going to be the one to put your name out there and lead that movement? I thought not.

Donald said...

I will respectfully disagree with my friend K.D., who is not only truly a friend but a former client of mine.

I think it's important for inmates to have proper ID upon their release from prison, several reasons. First of all, I want them to have jobs and bank accounts. Second, I want their photos and contact info in the DL/ID database.


I don't consider this "hug a thug" so much as "ID a thug" (and make it at least possible for him to work).

Thomas Hobbes said...

I can't help asking by what authority the DPS or McCraw can, politely or impolitely, refuse to comply with the provisions of HB 2161?

Anonymous said...

I see why it's a good idea to help inmates get IDs and drivers licenses, since it can help them get jobs, housing, and the like.

But lots of indigent, ill, and other people who never committed crimes don't get any help (as far as I know) from the state in securing the necessary identification to support their needs. If you're too poor to pay the fees or get to the DPS office because you have no transportation, for instance, does the state force anyone to help those people? Does anyone know if social services help these people get the IDs they need?

Donald said...

In response to 12:00, I think the factor differentiating these ex-cons from the dirt poor is the fact that these convicted criminals pose a danger to society by recidivating...if having ID helps them not to recidivate, then it's a small price to pay.

I don't know what services might be in place to provide official identification to those who are too poor to pay the fee for it, but I would agree that those people are no less deserving than prison inmates, and in many respects more so.

doran said...

Tex, this isn't about me. Or even about you and your snideness, unless you want it to be.

This is about a state agency that is so arrogant that it routinely ignores Legislative directions to get something done. If you don't agree with me that this behavior stems from, or is strongly informed by, a law enforcement attitude such I described, then please, tell us exactly what motivates DPS to be so arrogant. And in addition to motivation, tell us what it is that justifies DPS in ignoring Legislative instructions.

Mark # 1 said...

Grits, don't confuse people who think like Tex and KD with evidence-based facts. That interferes with their core beliefs in old-wives' tales, rumors, stereotypes, mythologies and fantasies.
After all, it's the way it's always been done in TEXAS, by gawd, so, luv it er leave it.

Anonymous said...

Dewhurst pimped 'real id' though many other states have said to hell with it. In '08 he proudly claimed that TX would reissue every d/l and id...damn fool...as for McCraw, who died and made him God?

bigdan said...

Let me see if I'm following the pro-DPS argument here. You support lawbreakers because it bothers you that lawbreakers are being supported.

Sounds logical to me.

Anonymous said...

to 12:00...yes there are charities out there to help released inmates get their state id. The inmate needs his/her birth certificate (they can get it from TDCJ at their release if they apply for it through Changes) and whatever it costs nowadays. They have to save that out of their gate money.

R. Shackleford said...

Yeah, Doran is correct. I'm not commenting on the inmates plight, I just want to say that I hate the half-assed way dps runs their dl offices. In Colorado, for instance, you go in to a dl office and give 'em the proper forms, and -bam!- you have a dl or license plate right then and there. In Texas, they f around for several weeks, during which time it's easy for some yokel cop to issue you tickets for not having the proper w/e (even though you really do), which you then must go to court to clear up, which ruins yet another couple of days. It's a bunch of bullmess. It's like we live in a third world country down here, we might as well live in frigging mexico for all the lack of efficiency.