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Obtaining Federal Benefits for Disabled Offenders: Part 3 -- The Challenges And Lessons Learned

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2007
2 pages
Publication Series
This article--the third in a series on the findings of a study of programs designed to obtain Federal disability benefits for inmates as part of reentry planning--summarizes what the study identified as the primary challenges to and lessons learned about obtaining these benefits for offenders who are entitled to them.
The programs studied face a number of common challenges in obtaining these benefits. First, some staff may resist helping inmates obtain the benefits because they do not believe that offenders deserve this type of assistance. Second, an offender's illiteracy, language barriers, and mental and physical health can make it difficult for him/her to participate effectively in the application process. Third, inmates may refuse to complete prerelease applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance. Other challenges cited in the study are delay in determining disability, high rates of denial for SSI, lack of information, and difficulty in locating offenders after their release from prison or jail. In addition to these challenges, the experiences of the study sites suggest six lessons learned in helping inmates with applications for Federal disability benefits. One lesson is that inmates receive better assistance when many agencies and individuals cooperate in ensuring that eligible applicants are identified and that benefits are distributed. A second lesson is that specialized staff can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the application process. A third lesson is that programs must use their own funds to pay for services during the period between release and the start of disability or health benefits. Other lessons are that tracking outcomes is beneficial, centralizing operations reduces delays and improves communication, and assisting mentally ill offenders poses special challenges.

Date Published: August 1, 2007