Individual Dignity Project team wins 2016 Penn Public Policy Challenge

A valid photo ID is a basic requirement of modern life, particularly for citizens reentering society after serving time in prison. Applying for jobs, housing, public benefits, and support services is nearly impossible without proof of identity.

A team of students from Penn has proposed a policy initiative to help re-entering citizens access an ID as soon as they’re released. Their proposal, also designed to combat Philadelphia’s recidivism crisis, has won the 2016 Penn Public Policy Challenge.

The Philadelphia Individual Dignity Project team proposal seeks to implement a pilot program at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia that would enable eligible exiting prisoners to receive a state-issued ID card on site upon release. 

The team bested four other student-led teams in the annual competition, now in its seventh year, presented by the Fels Institute of Government.

Benjamin Morano, executive director of the Challenge, says the Individual Dignity Project team won because it found an “impactful and realistic solution to a pressing problem, and connected with critical stakeholders who are needed to make changes happen.” The team received $5,000 to help develop the pilot plan.

The team of three is comprised of Salomon Moreno-Rosa, a dual-degree candidate at both the Fels Institute of Government and the Graduate School of Education; Samantha Waxman, a student in the Master of Science in Social Policy program at the School of Social Policy & Practice; and Sarai Williams, a master’s dual degree candidate in the City & Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture departments at PennDesign.

“This is a chance to influence the trajectory of returning citizens’ lives, and the lives of those close to them and anyone else who their decisions may impact,” says Williams. “Providing a person who has served their time with that simple initial component—an ID—to start anew has the potential to affirm that steps toward positive change are both feasible and readily accessible.”

The team now moves on to the Public Policy Challenge National Invitational to compete against teams of students from universities across the country before a panel of judges, distinguished civic leaders, and public servants for a $10,000 grand prize. Three runner-up teams will be awarded $5,000 each to further develop their proposals.  

The National Invitational competition is open to the public. The semi-finals will be held on Saturday, March 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, 315 Chestnut St. The finals will take place on Sunday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street.

Individual Dignity Project