Maine prisoners collecting unemployment, halted by the Governor
According to Maine Corrections officials, some state prisoners have collectively drawn nearly $200,000 in unemployment benefits.
Corrections Commissioner, Randall Liberty says 53 out of 175 inmates who had been participating in work release programs were receiving checks.
Inmates are paid for their work but must reimburse the Department of Corrections for their room and board and transportation to and from their jobs. Their wages are also used to pay any victim restitution.
When businesses began closing due to the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March, inmates were laid off from their jobs.
Some of them began applying for a unemployment benefits.
Liberty said he does not know how the inmates applied for the benefits. He said it could have been family members.
Liberty said two weeks ago, he learned that 53 inmates had been receiving unemployment benefits and he notified the governor’s office.
Liberty tells TV 5 these inmates had been collecting benefits for 5 weeks.
Those inmates received $198,766.53 in unemployment benefits.
He says, "The Governor and I believe that that probably wasn't the legislative intent for offenders that have their needs being cared for, for them to receive unemployment benefits. So, we froze that. We stopped that practice. All of the funds that had been obtained through the unemployment process are now frozen and they will be until we receive further guidance and further advice from legal counsel."
Liberty says according to an opinion from the Attorney General's Office, it is legal for these inmates to collect unemployment.
A full list of inmates who have been receiving benefits has been turned over to the Labor Department.
According to Liberty, all of the money inmates have collected from unemployment has been put into an account that the offenders have no access to.