Social Security in prison

A guy works his entire life. Then when he’s 55 years old he murders his boss and gets sentenced to life. At age 65 when he’s eligible for social security, is he allowed to collect while in prison? Does he get to have the money while there? Is he one of the richest guys in the cell block?

I googled ‘prisoner social security’ and got this:

“Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments generally are not payable for months that you are confined to a jail, prison or certain other public institutions for commission of a crime. And, you are not eligible for Social Security or SSI payments automatically when you are released.”

It took 5 seconds to find. Is it wrong?

Social Security law specifically prohibits people from collecting SS benefits while they are in prison or jail.

I was once involved in an investigation of some prisoners who were fraudulently collecting social security checks.

Can anyone find out anything as to WHY you can’t receive SS while in prison? It seems against logic.

The reasoning is not exactly clear, it’s stated that prisoners don’t need the social security because they are being taken care at government expense.

But this skids the fact that most prisoners are in state institutions and SS is a federal program. It might make sense if the state prisons were taking the SS payments and attaching them to offset the cost of the prisoner’s upkeep

Prisoners are allowed to receive private pensions and they also can get VA benefits.

A state may at any time sue the prisoner to offset costs of the upkeep of a prisoner but this is seldom done.

Basically the Ninth court of the US appeals system upheld the right of the SS administration to deny benefits. A quick review of the case was as follows

Case: See: Butler v. Apfel , 144 F.3d 622 (9th Cir. 1998)

[li]The court of appeals for the Ninth circuit held that a statute denying Social Security benefits to prisoners is constitutional. [/li]
[li]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). [/li]
[li]An administrative law judge affirmed the SSA’s decision. [/li]
[li]Butler filed suit in federal court and it was dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. [/li]
[li]The court of appeals affirmed.[/li]
[li]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. [/li]
[li]Congress has wide discretion in administering welfare resources. [/li]
[li]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. [/li]
[li]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. [/li]
[li]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.[/li][/ul]

Note that even though a prisoner can be denied SS, and benefits his family may be entitled to cannot be denied to them, if they quality, just because the person they derive those benefits from are in prison

The reg implementing the statute is 20 CFR 404.468, which provides that no monthly benefits will be paid to any individual for any month any part of which the individual is confined in a jail, prison, or other penal institution or correctional facility for conviction of felony, but that applies only to the individual and not to any auxillary beneficiary. There is an exception for a prisoner who is entitled to disability benefits who is actively and satisfactorily participating in a rehabilitation program which has been specifically approved by court of law and that the program is expected to result in his or her ability to do SGA upon release and within a reasonable time. No benefits will be paid to the individual for any month prior to the approval of the program.

But I thought that the idea was that SS was NOT a welfare program, but a program that you paid into through your withholdings every pay check, no?

Wouldn’t it be just like if I contributed to an IRA, but they took the money because of a conviction (unrelated to the money)?

Well, the money you pay into it is not set aside for you or anything. You are paying for the current SS checks and relying on those in the future to pay for yours.

No. It’s a deliberately promulgated myth on a par with claiming our dollars are backed by the gold in Fort Knox. SS is only a “retirement account” in the narrow sense that by law its bookkeeping is kept separate from the general revenue of the rest of the US government- and that’s largely a myth due to the requirement that the SS fund be “invested” in US government bonds. It was set up this way because “Federally funded old age dole” would have been too “Communist” to be politically salable back in the 1930s.

Don’t most prisons set limits on what amenities you’re permitted to purchase or possess even if you had limitless money?

Broadly speaking, no. Prisoners do not have a set allowance they can spend - if they have the money they can generally spend it. There are obviously some practical limits: certain items are not allowed at all and there are general limits to the amount of property that a prisoner can accumulate. And we will investigate spending patterns for suspicous activities (I do this regularly myself).

The thing that is confusing people is this

The argument seems to be:

A person paid in to SS so he should be allowed to collect. Sounds fair right?

A law was passed saying people in prison can’t collect Social Security.

This isn’t fair.

But the courts have ruled the law doesn’t have to be fair, a law has to be constitutional. And of course the courts ruled it constitutional

It’s like voting, a lot of states take away a felon’s right to vote. The are being denied the ability to participate in a program. In this case voting. So a prisoner is being denied the right to participate in Social Security.

Is it fair? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t have to be fair, it just has to be constitutional

Social Security is not a welfare program, except insofar as it correlates to Medicaid; however, it is an entitlement program.

As the above post noted, Congress can do pretty much as it wants so long as it passes constitutional provisions. The Social Security Administration can promulgate any regulation it wants, so long as it is not inconsistent with the Act, and SCOTA has given the Administration wide latitude in interpreting its own regulations.

However, I think the reasoning is not so much as punishment but that a prisoner is getting the benefits of being in prison. It really doesn’t matter if the State or the federal government is paying for his expenses in prison, he, in either case, is getting the benefits so there is no need for SS benefits. Note that the law pertains only to felonies, and not to misdemeanors.

As far as disability benefits is concerned, note, as always, the SSA grants an exception to somebody who, although unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) now, makes solid plans to do so in the near future. I see nothing in the reg prohibiting the benefits once the person is released from prison, but I have not checked the Act, just the Regulation. However, I believe if the Act provides otherwise, this would have been included in the Regulation. I’ll check the Act this afternoon if I get the time.

But, Markxxx, it amounts to being more than just unfair. It seems as if it is theft. I understand that you are paying for this generation’s retirement with a promise in the future that yours will be paid.

However, it seems as if they are withdrawing that promise because you committed a crime, even if the crime is totally unrelated to the money that you contributed for all of those years. It would be like your home owners insurance refusing to pay when your house burned down because you shoplifted from the convenience store down the road.

Something just doesn’t seem right about that. Don’t I have a property interest in my social security money like anything else?

It’s no more theft than any other form of taxation is. Once you pay money into the social security program, it’s no longer your money. If you had any claim of ownership to any of the money in the system, then the estate of a person who died at 50 (after paying money in but before collecting any pension) would be entitled to get his money back.

The entitlement is that you are promised you’ll get a pension from the government. This pension will be paid out of money collected from other people at around the same time it’s being paid to you. There’s no pile of money with your name on it waiting for you somewhere.

And as an entitlement, the government is free to define who is and is not entitled. It decided prisoners are not entitled to social security pensions.

Fair enough. That’s the best argument for social security privatization that I’ve ever heard…

Understand that this law applies to all SS benefits, including disability benefits. The Act itself is much more detailed than the regulation:
The Act appears to be based on the fact that the prisoner is getting expenses paid at the public’s expense. The Act includes being confined in an institution at public expense by reason of insanity, being a sexual predator, or is not institutionalized but flees to avoid prosecution or is violating a condition of probation or parole… But payments may be made upon mitigating circumstances if the offense is neither violent or drug related.

The Act also provides for payments to the state or local institution housing the prisoner, up to $400 a month.


The government is not a business so it’s foolish to try to judge it by business standards. Businesses exist to make a profit. Governments exist to provide services. Arguing about why the government doesn’t make a profit is like arguing why General Motors doesn’t enforce laws.

As for the argument that private businesses should provide services for the government, that also is weak logic. As I wrote, businesses exist to make profits and governments do not. That means the government can provide a service at cost while any business providing an identical service will have to earn a profit and will therefore have to charge more for it.

I’d like to post a Q regarding this suspension/termination of SS retirement benefits. (Is VA disability comp governed by same CFR regarding non-payment?).

Apparently, a confined person must tell SS they are incarcerated - but there is also a payment SS makes to jails/prisons to solicit incarceration info. Then the SS payment stops.

But, does anyone know what happens if the SS recipient is in a foreign jail/prison? Does the local US Embassy report to SS? Or is the SS recipient entirely on the ‘honor’ system of reporting his/her foreign incarceration? I cannot find any authoritative net discussion on this topic.

BTW: SS’s argument for denying payments by stating the prisoner is having food/lodging paid by the state kinda flies out the window in most foreign locales where some extra money paid to jailers brings a basic standard of food/lodging.

VA disability is not governed by Title 20 of the Code but by Title 38. Those benefits are not suspended.

Are zombies eligible for Social Security?