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Helping inmates make the transition to the real world, one form at a time

Feb. 5, 2018

Ignition interlock photo

File under “Things you never think about”: If a person is in prison for a DWI-related offense, they don’t have a license when they get out. And the longer they go without a license, the more likely they are to drive without one – which can land them right back in prison. So how to make sure they’re safely and legally driving behind the wheel?

Enter ignition interlock transition help in state correctional facilities. Department of Public Safety (DPS) staff started by going to Lino Lakes Correctional Facility in the summer of 2015. They spoke to offenders who had multiple DWIs and were going through the prison’s treatment program. They did a presentation on the Ignition Interlock Device Program and answered the inmates’ questions. That event was such a success that DPS began contacting other state correctional facilities and offering to help inmates with their driver’s licensing issues, even if they don’t involve Ignition Interlock. In addition to Lino Lakes, the project is now in Stillwater, Moose Lake and Willow River.

Prisons have transition coordinators whose job is exactly what it sounds like: helping inmates make the transition from prison back to the real world. So when a prison is ready to have the DPS team come to the facility, the transition coordinator puts out a signup sheet so that any inmate can come (it doesn’t just have to be people who are there strictly for DWIs; it may just be one of their offenses).

About two weeks before the event, the transition coordinator sends the signup list to DPS so staff can pull the driving records of the inmates who will attend and find out what forms and documents they’ll need. Then they go to the prison, do a presentation, and answer questions from the group. But after that the really useful part begins: They meet one-on-one with each inmate to help them through their individual cases. For example, if an inmate has unpaid fines, the DPS team member makes a list of them, along with the proper contact information the inmate needs to get the fines cleared.

DPS staff also attend transition fairs at each prison. Any inmate scheduled for release within the next year can attend. Between the presentations and the fairs, team members go to each prison at least twice per year, and they’ve made 15 visits since the start in 2015. The transition coordinators always ask DPS to come back, and they even contact staff to ask questions between visits.

The best part is that the inmates seem to appreciate the fact that they can get started on getting their driver’s licenses back even before they’re released. And after that first visit to Lino Lakes? DPS got a packet back a week later.