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Helping Inmates Obtain Federal Disability Benefits: Serious Medical and Mental Illness, Incarceration, and Federal Disability Entitlement Programs

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2005
74 pages
This report analyzes the experiences of New York State, the city of Philadelphia, and the State of Texas in helping prison and jail inmates file prerelease applications for Federal disability benefits.
Among the thousands of severely ill inmates released from the Nation's prisons and jails each year, some may be eligible for disability benefits through Federal entitlement programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and veterans pension or compensation funds. Securing such benefits for qualified releasees as soon as possible after release can be critical in preventing relapses, recidivism, and reinstitutionalization. The three sites examined in this report assist inmates in applying for such benefits prior to their release. Through formal or informal partnerships, professionals in the fields of corrections, benefits, and health care help inmates complete the application process. This may include assisting inmates in obtaining identification documents and financial and health records; preparing and filing prerelease applications for benefits; monitoring the status of applications; assisting with appeals; and ensuring the benefits approved are received. Some lessons learned through the experiences of these sites are that interagency partnerships are essential in the application process; assigning staff to benefits tasks can streamline the benefits process; financing treatment and monitoring releasees until benefits begin is essential; tracking outcomes of the benefits process is necessary; centralizing operations can reduce processing delays and improve communication among involved organizations; and assisting mentally ill inmates poses special challenges. This report advises that although helping qualified releasees secure Federal benefits is an important part of prerelease planning, alternative sources of funding and services must also be in place, because the benefits application process is fraught with delays, uncertain outcomes, and rejections. 3 exhibits, 8 resources, and 85 notes

Date Published: June 1, 2005