New Jersey Prisoners Illegally Collect $23 Million In Benefits

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Even though they are not supposed to be eligible for government assistance, an audit has revealed that New Jersey prison inmates collected millions of dollars last year.

Auditors found that New Jersey prisoners collected at least $23 million in state benefits for things like Medicaid coverage, sick pay and food stamps.

"Whenever you've got thousands of inmates collecting unemployment checks from behind bars obviously there's a serious gap in oversight," said the man who coordinated the audit, New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer.

One inmate received $39,000 in unemployment payments while serving a year for a drug offense and another took in $25,000 three months after going to jail for a gun charge. Auditors also discovered that a man doing time for sexually assaulting a child got more than $37,000.

The problem occurred because of internal errors and a breakdown in communication between state agencies that were supposed to be reviewing whether someone was eligible for payment, ABC News reported.

Things got so bad that "one agency… relied on a review of New Jersey newspapers to determine if any of its thousands of program participants had been arrested or convicted of a crime."

"There were some departments that were checking state prison data and not county prison data, and there were other departments that weren't performing screens on any of this data," Boxer said.

This might not be an issue just in New Jersey. Boxer said he thought it was possible that other states might have similar problems.

"We would encourage governments and audit offices in other states to make these kinds of checks to ensure that we're not sending tax dollars to people who are locked up for having committed crimes," Boxer said.

The state is now focusing on recovering the misspent money.

"These are vitally important social programs," Boxer said. "Our audit identifies simple but critical steps that will help ensure that tax dollars spent on these programs are reserved for those who actually qualify for benefits."

Sources: ABC News, The Atlanta Journal Constitution