Cook County inmates get ID cards for life outside jail

A unique program at the Cook County Correctional Center aims to prepare inmates for life outside the jail.

On Monday morning, many women inside the jail were smiling for the camera — and then within minutes they got a CityKey. It is a government issued ID to use in Chicago.

"Without an ID in this city or this country, you don’t exist. You can’t get an apartment, you can’t go to the food pantry, you can’t get social service help," said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

That’s why Commissioner Gainer wanted to bring this municipal ID printing event to Cook County Jail, where a lot of inmates don’t have identification.

"You don’t have birth certificates, ID’s, maybe some stuff got lost, you’ve been sitting here for years," explained inmate Taniqua Williams.

"You realize the roadblocks they face when they leave. It’s shocking, but it’s important that we all recognize the real hurdles out there for people," said Dr. Jane Gubser, Executive Director, Cook County Department of Corrections.


Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia’s office created the CityKey for people who struggle to get an ID, such as teens and undocumented people. For her, it made sense to bring her team to the jail.

"To have an ID with dignity, it’s why I decided to do this work, so it really fills your heart and your soul today," said Valencia.

The identification helps the inmates eventually get housing, city services and more, but the women spearheading this effort say it goes deeper.

"It means that people treat you like another human being and the dignity is the important thing," explained Commissioner Gainer.

"It’s a good thing that they care enough to at least get you started, get that first foot out there to guide you on a better path to better yourself," said Taniqua Williams.

The new ID’s will be waiting for the inmates when they take that step toward a new start.