Old Prisoners Denied Their Social Security


From time to time, I’ve written about the growing numbers of older prisoners now filling up the country’s prisons and jails, in a series of posts called Aging Behind Bars. Many of these prisoners receive inadquate health care and are subject to special forms of cruel and inhuman punishment that have to do with age–i.e. requiring people with bad arthritis to climb to the upper bunk to sleep, or making it next to impossible for inmates in wheelchairs to access parts of prisons available to younger people, even including something as simple as handicapped showers. Among the worst incidents described to me by a medical consultant were ill women forced to get out of bed at 3 am,then stand in lines to obtain medicine in one Alabama women’s prison.

Older prisoners are also often denied the Social Security they earned for years before being convicted of a crime. Lois Ahrens, who runs the indispenable Real Cost of Prisons Project, alerted me to the situation of David Hinman, a prisoner in Iowa. Now 65, he contributed to Social Security for years while he was in the “free-world.” He is not eligible for parole for a number years. Hinman writes:

Currently the government will not pay people in prison social security. I am speaking about paying social security to those who paid into the fund. Payment is based on what they paid in. Even though I am now 65 and paid into the fund, since I am in prison I am not allowed to collect unless I am released from prison. By not paying inmates the social security to which they are entitled, I believe this is in some manner, theft.

My question to readers is: should prison inmates who paid into social security and reached 65 be allowed to collected social security while incarcerated or not.

(You can write to David Hinman, #25374, Anamosa State Penitentiary, 406 North High Street, P.O. Box 10, Anamosa, IA 52205-0010.)

Asked about this situation, Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, the excellent magazine which tracks prison issues, wrote me:

Part of the problem I have with this is that someone can work their whole life, pay into Social Security, commit a crime at a later age, and go to prison for the rest of their life and never see a penny of the money they paid into SS. The lie used to justify this is prisoners have no need for money but that is not true. I think it is a backdoor way to trim the SS rolls. I think this is the exception. To put it into context, retirees can get their pensions in prison, veterans can get their VA benefits in prison. It follows that if you earn something you are entitled to it. It is not a freebie the government can take away because it doesn’t like you and that is exactly what they do here.

Wright attached an article from a 1998 isssue of Prison Legal News, describing a federal court decision on the subject, that sets the situation into the bleakest of terms.

The court of appeals for the Ninth circuit held that a statute denying Social Security benefits to prisoners is constitutional. Robert Butler is a 77 year old Nevada state prisoner. Butler was granted social security retirement benefits in 1983. He was later incarcerated and the Social Security Administration (SSA) determined he was not entitled to benefits while he was incarcerated pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 402(X). An administrative law judge affirmed the SSA’s decision. Butler filed suit in federal court and it was dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court of appeals affirmed. The appeals court noted that every court to consider the constitutionality of 42 U.S.C. § 402(X), this includes the Second, Fourth, Eighth, Tenth and Eleventh circuits, had upheld the law. Congress has wide discretion in administering welfare resources. The court held that § 402(X)’s ban on social security benefits to prisoners does not violate constitutional guarantees to due process, equal protection and protection against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. The court also held that Butler was provided with ample due process before his benefits were terminated because he participated in the SSA hearing by telephone. Since the statute leaves no room for agency discretion and the only fact issue was whether or not Butler was a felon doing time in prison, the telephone hearing was sufficient to safeguard Butler’s due process interest in his social security benefits. See: Butler v. Apfel , 144 F.3d 622 (9th Cir. 1998).

4 responses to “Old Prisoners Denied Their Social Security

  1. You wrote:

    “Many of these prisoners receive inadequate health care and are subject to special forms of cruel and inhuman punishment that have to do with age–i.e. requiring people with bad arthritis to climb to the upper bunk to sleep, or making it next to impossible for inmates in wheelchairs to access parts of prisons available to younger people, even including something as simple as handicapped showers.”

    Believe me…it’s much worse than most of us can imagine. I worked as a volunteer investigator for the ACLU after I retired from the government. One of the first and more depressing cases I had was that of a Vietnam vet who had lost his leg in Vietnam. His crutches had been taken away from him because the prison officials deemed they could be used as weapons. If he could not get the help of a fellow cell mate..he had to crawl to get to the toilet and when it was time for meals..had to find another inmate to help him get in and out of the dining area. One of his fellow inmates contacted the ACLU. It took 2 months, but the ACLU finally convinced the prison authorities to provide crutches for the inmate. I lasted as an ACLU volunteer investigator for about a year. Totally “burned out”.

    I had no idea about the denial of Social Security. Wonder what the ACLU has done..or can do about this. Will write and ask them.

  2. Here’s one for you. A relative of mine, who will turn 68 this year, was drawing her SSA retirement benefits. She was convicted of felony assault following a car accident (no, she was not DUI) and given 4 years of which she served 9 months in a Missouri state prison. Not only does she lose her SSA retirement benefits during her incareration, but the State of Missouri got a judgment under the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act (MIRA) ordering her to pay over $10,000 for her cost of incarceration. So not only did she lose over $10,000 in SSA retirement benefits, had to pay the State of MO over $10,000 for her stay with them. Seems to me she has paid twice. Your thoughts?

  3. Has anyone considered the impact on the spouse who relies on her husband’s SS to make house payments and to have a sustainable income. What law allows this unfair practice?

  4. Prisons are big business nowadays. Towns now absent of mfg etc, BEG to have one of these private prisons.

    Such places need a product – thus the insane 3 strikes you’re out – with prisons now filled with a majority on non-violent offenders.

    We incarcerate the most people (per capita) in the world – free country that we are. Too bad none of the above persons suffering such degradation weren’t a politician.

    I’m wondering if the politicians, judges, lawyers, aldermen etc incarcerated at the country club Oxford (no cell blocks – culinary classes – no fences – walking track – ) in Wisconsin are being ‘charged’ for their cushy stays?

    Over 20 politicians convicted of serious crimes over the past 2 decades have taken a forced sabbatical here. NOPE they did not LOSE their lucrative taxpayer paid pensions.

    Let’s take former US Congressman Rostenkowski, jailed after ripping off taxpayers (fraud- embezzlement) for hundreds of thousands (17 months).

    This didn’t include the trips, golf vacations, exotic dinners, et al that he enjoyed playing Monarch! Dan received his pension (yearly cost of living increases) of $128,000/ and of course, will continue with his life time (taxpayer subsidized) Cadillac health benefits.

    We pick up 72% of premium costs! Restitution for the massive rip off of our monies? NOPE. On top of this – Dan got the BEST of medical care (our dime) when he was operated on for prostate cancer/ given special treatment from July to Dec / unlike the poor souls in the above article being treated worse than rabid dogs. Danny was pardoned in 2000 by Clinton.

    Phew, so thankfully he can now receive student loans – public housing and vote. Moral of this all: Run for office – preferably as a US Congressperson/Senator. You’ll receive a country club sentence with all the perks and suffer zero consequences when released.

    Obviously we have a double standard when it comes to ‘crime – pensions – health benefits – perks etc’. If one of the above ‘criminals’ had been Patrick Kennedy crashing into barricades (dead of night) cars etc, in Washington proper – drunk or on drugs (they didn’t check) the police would have taken them home.

    If they’d have had a prostitution ring being run out of their townhouse/ no problem. If they were Al Gore’s son (AGAIN) now in his late 20s (no teenager) found with a car full of prescription drugs (illegal) gosh they’d have gotten a month’s stay (if they had the name and bucks) at a $45,000 per month Pacific seaside rehab center – numerous bad checks (US Congress) – no problem – sweetheart deals for family members given lobbyist jobs/ just part of doing business.

    Taxpayer funded vacations called ‘fact finding missions’ – all made legal per language. On and on it goes. And that brings us to the perfectly ‘legal’ scam we see today by the ‘gang of six’ Senators; all from smaller state populations – who have received amongst them almost 1 billion in monies, from big pharma – insurance companies – hospital associations / who have had LOBBYISTS write the legalese mumbo jumbo, health reform (really insurance – big pharma bonanza) bill, that will now ‘mandate’, an atrocious health bill that will chain, work a day stiffs – young college graduates – seniors (anyone over 65) to loan shark payments, to corporate hucksters under the threat of thousands in FINES/ hey maybe prison?

    For what? For Medicaid on steroids which will see multitudes ‘legally’ consigned, to a life of intolerable suffering (called torture in sane societies) and death.

    Death by depraved indifference (legal mind you) that has an Advisory (I did read the bill) Panel of some 20+ non medical trolls – who will ascertain what, if any, treatment you or yours will receive (surgery – prescriptions – chemo – dialysis – treatments etc) depending on age – neurological impairment – etc/ meaning (crass but true) that if you are no longer, or never were (due to impairment/ physical – mental), a taxpaying cog contributing to society , you will be deemed as not being ‘cost effective’ therefore disposable.

    Why bring this up in the context of prisons – the brutality of prisoners treatment? Simply because, outside of true crime: rape, murder, violent assaults, child molestation, domestic battering of intense trauma (not a push – shove) armed robbery, gang land violence, DRUG KINGPINS, —-This health reform (gag) bill, is a ‘crime’ of unbelievable proportions, against society – far more threatening to society, than a DUI ( no death – injury) a pot smoker, a heroin addict, bad checks, probation violation, car theft, petty ante drug dealing, theft, etc.

    Drug addition in particular, is a disease, not a crime. Alcoholism is a disease, (ask Betty Ford) not a crime. Sex amongst teenagers, is NOT a sexual predator crime. While theft (not armed) whether shop lifting – breaking and entering, auto theft, etc is certainly a crime – the sentencing for such ‘crimes’, is way out of proportion/ especially in three strikes you’re out, which can see a person serving life, for a simple theft, crack vs cocaine sen tenting – while POLITICIANS such as Dan (numerous others) or Judges (robbing trust funds etc) get special treatment – do not suffer lose of pensions (federal or state) and DO NOT suffer a life time sentence, forever labeled FELON.

    And now – people are going to DIE – legally sentenced to death – TRUE, when a bill -written totally by corporate interests – unread, and not understood by OUR representatives, will leave people without decent – affordable – available treatments.

    Not on a plan, that has a generalized public option, that might as well be a death certificate/ since doctors will NOT take (they don’t now) a crappy plan, that is merely an expansion of Medicaid. No specialists, no MRIs, no chemo, no special therapies. Like the country club prisoners, with their culinary classes -MONEY will determine (best of plans will cost moocho bucks) who lives and who dies. In my eyes this is what you call REAL CRIME.

    And the deaths resulting will be LEGAL. Much like the $17.5 TRILLION (the real figure) Wall Street – Hedge Funds – Fannie- Freddie – Investment banks -Insurance giants – Rating Agencies – Washington lap dogs/ thugs —-HEIST (largest in history) of global proportions sees not ONE person in jail – not a one. President Clinton (signed the bill) – Senators – Congress VOTED to repeal the Glass Stegall Act – set up the Financial Modernization Act (unregulated shadow financial organization) – in cahoots with Bankers / scamming the illiterate – poor, easily compromised, into sub prime mortgages, creating Hedge Funds (high rollers) betting, bundling, citizens mortgages – 401 -ks , pensions.

    NOW these very same criminals (all in places of power – cabinet appointments – Czar positions – Fed – Treasury – Banking) continue to ROB the country blind; causing massive foreclosures, millions of layoffs, thousands of needed programs canceled, bankruptcy of numerous businesses (banks will not give credit lines!) —–to make GOOD on their global, insurance – rating fraud – LIES – credit swaps/derivatives (bets on known and non existent entities).

    This is REAL crime/ not some old woman in jail denied her SS and now being extorted for $10,000 – or a legless veteran made to crawl to the toilet/ if NOT for the ACLU having to demand humane treatment.

    A society, ruled and governed by corrupt – greedy -malignant -malevolent -soulless creatures, (politicians – trans -national corporations- lobbyists) hucksters – without conscience or loyalty to any land –plundering their own people and making a business of incarcerating millions for PROFIT – is a dying society and will not – cannot survive.

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