Helping People With Disabilities Nationwide

Incarceration and Disability

by | Dec 6, 2016 | SSD - Social Security Disability Process And Benefits |

I recently met a correctional physician, who had a tattoo of the Eighth Amendment on his arm. Why? Because the incarcerated are the only population guaranteed access to healthcare under the Constitution. The tattoo serves as a daily reminder of the difficulties facing the people he serves. The doctor described typical physical and mental impairments seen at the correctional facility, and the situational hardships surmounting his patients. He also observed that some inmates became incarcerated for the sole purpose of receiving medical attention.

Needless to say, as an attorney, I do not advise anyone to commit a crime, even a disabled individual in need of healthcare. While the burden of proof for Social Security Disability is on the claimant to show the existence of a disability through appropriate medical documents, obtaining medical care through imprisonment imposes further complications. Generally, a criminal history tends to worsen life situations, parting inmates from their families and support, and staining future job prospects. Moreover, chronic medical conditions are not likely to improve significantly while incarcerated, especially if the inmate suffers from a mental illness. Rather, confinement tends to magnify and exacerbate the mental health problems of inmates.

For those inmates who were already receiving Social Security Disability benefits, conviction of a crime and incarceration for more than 30 continuous days will result in suspension of benefits (though they can be reinstated the month following the month of release). Although the claimant may not receive Social Security benefits in prison, benefits to dependents should continue as long as they remain eligible.

Likewise, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are suspended during any month of incarceration, but can be reinstated in the month of release, with a copy of the release documents. However, if confinement lasts for 12 consecutive months or longer, eligibility for SSI benefits will be terminated and the claimant must file a new application for benefits. Some correctional facilities provide a prerelease agreement, which will allow Social Security to begin processing the application as soon as possible after release.

While there may be benefits to incarceration, the associated risks and consequences of imprisonment for the disabled individual are severe.

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 US 97, 103 (1979)



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