Question of the Week: do you think convicted felons should receive Social Security?

Every week, we’ll be asking The Seniors Center supporters what they think about the latest Social Security and issues affecting American retirees. Because when it comes to advocating for seniors, the best policy is listening and learning from the REAL experts: YOU.

Your responses will help us understand how seniors truly feel about today’s most important retirement issues. And when you’re finished, be sure to keep an eye out for when we share our results–you just may see your response in our next blog post!

Being convicted of a felony in the United States can strip you of a lot of rights and privileges depending on where you live. Convicted felons can lose voting rights, the ability to travel abroad, the ability to work in certain jobs or serve on a jury, and be barred from receiving certain social benefits.

And, of course, their Social Security benefits, right?

Actually, that’s wrong. But a LOT of people think it’s right.

Convicted felons may lose a lot of things, but Social Security isn’t one of them. Being convicted doesn’t mean you automatically lose your benefits for life.

The rule regarding incarceration and Social Security is you can’t collect benefits for any month in which you’ve spent more than 30 consecutive days incarcerated. So, once you’ve spent 31 days in a correctional facility, each month you remain in corrections after that is a month your benefits will be skipped.

Upon release, however, your benefits can be reinstated depending on the specifics of your case.

There are many exemptions to this reinstatement, though. For example, if you were to, say, stage a daring prison break, you’d lose your benefits. Andy Dufresne may have escaped to life of seaside relaxation after busting out of Shawshank Prison, but he definitely wasn’t paying for it using his Social Security benefits. Another thing that can happen is if you violate probation or parole, you can lose your benefits for the months you were in violation. You can also have your benefits reduced if you commit treason, sabotage, or some other kind of high federal crime.

So, the rules about who can collect Social Security after conviction are plentiful and no-so-straightforward. But, people convicted of serious crimes aren’t necessarily forever barred from collecting benefits. After all, at some point prior to conviction, they probably contributed to it.

And it’s this fact that’s the main supporting argument for continuing to allow convicted people to claim Social Security. As much as society might look down on the things they’ve done, Social Security is a “you put in, you take out” program. And should the mistakes someone has made completely void that contract and essentially “steal” all of their prior contributions to give to other retirees?

But, the program is suffering for a lack of contributions right now. And limiting the amount of people who can claim benefits–for good or bad–is one way to keep more money in Social Security. Some might even argue denying Social Security benefits to those who commit serious crimes could serve as a deterrent to committing them in the first place.

If you were in control, what would you do? Would you keep the rules we have the same, pausing benefits for people who are in prison, and resuming them once they’ve served their sentence (provided they followed the straight and narrow after)? Do you think it’s unacceptable to deny benefits in any way to those who have paid in, regardless of what they’ve done? Or, do you think those convicted of serious crimes should be stripped of their benefits?