Soundings

Peter Reinharz
Criminal Entitlements
Summer 1998

Because taxpayers pay for the room, board, and medical expenses of incarcerated criminals, jailbirds aren’t eligible to receive most entitlements. But fraud is rampant: a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed observed that 60,000 convicted violent offenders have been regularly getting social security checks in the mail, cheating U.S. taxpayers out of an estimated $500 million every year.

In New York, similar practices flourish. One that’s easy to stop involves young offenders. Their families often receive public assistance. But though a family’s assistance level, which is supposed to vary with the number of minors living at home, should diminish when one of their children is behind bars, it seldom does. Since local social service agencies don’t receive lists of criminal offenders to match against their own recipient lists, they rarely find out when a family is cheating.

It’s only common sense to require corrections departments to send inmate lists to local public assistance agencies so they can modify family payments accordingly. It makes sense, too, to automate such list sharing, to allow agencies to increase or diminish public assistance payments electronically.  Incarceration in a juvenile facility costs state governments huge sums of money over $75,000 yearly per juvenile delinquent in New York State. Wasting additional millions on unwarranted welfare payments is an affront to taxpayers. Reform would also send a healthy message to the young offenders and their families that there’s a cost to crime.

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