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Female inmates issued CityKey ID cards in jail pilot program

City Clerk Anna Valencia’s office plans to offer Chicago’s municipal identification card to male inmates at the Cook County Jail.

CityKey administrator Ebonie McDuff reviews documents for a female inmate registering for a municipal photo ID card through a pilot program at the jail.
Thomas Quinn | Cook County Sheriff’s Office

When Nardia Lee was arrested for missing a court date, her car, with her wallet inside, was impounded and Lee was taken to jail. She will continue to fight her case after posting bond, hopefully next week, but Lee isn’t sure how long it will take to get her stuff back or if she’ll be able to get a new photo ID without the contents of her wallet.

The situation isn’t unusual for those leaving the Cook County Jail, especially for detainees who have spent months or years locked up. Drivers licenses expire, and birth certificates and Social Security cards can be misplaced. That’s why Lee and roughly a third of her fellow female inmates at the jail lined up Friday to register for CityKey identification cards, through a program being piloted at the jail by City Clerk Anna Valencia’s office.

“I don’t have an ID. I don’t have a (Ventra) card. I can’t drive, and I can’t get on the bus,” Lee said. “This is going to be a big help to me when I get out.”

Lack of identification is a hurdle for recently released inmates as they seek housing and apply for jobs and services, said Valencia, who made a presentation about the program to a group of female inmates.

CityKey cards can be used as a Ventra card and loaded with cash to ride CTA buses and trains, and serve as valid ID for city services. And the list of documentation that can be used as verification to get a CityKey ID is far more forgiving than those required for a state ID. Inmates Friday were able to get their CityKey card using a letter from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department certifying their identities and address, based on their booking records.

About 43,000 city residents have been issued CityKey cards since the program was rolled out in 2018, with many signing up at mobile locations at community centers and ward offices.

“That’s why we’re out here (at the jail). We’re doubling down and really meeting people where they are,” Valencia said.

Program Director Tierney Brosnahan said jail officials hoped to expand CityKey enrollment to the far larger population of male inmates in coming months and is in talks with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office about helping inmates get state identification as well.

The CityKey program had its critics almost as soon as it was announced. Former state lawmaker Jeanne Ives, when she was seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, blasted the municipal ID card as a potential means for voter fraud, saying the cards could be used to register to vote because you can get a municipal ID card without showing proof of citizenship.

While the municipal ID program was intended to provide easier access to a government-issued ID for the elderly, poor and homeless, Valencia said CityKey cards also offer benefits for city residents who can easily afford the $20 fee and the time it takes for a visit to a secretary of state office, including half-off tickets to the Goodman Theater, discounts on prescription medication and free admission to The Field Museum.