In 13 states, prisoners can do data entry, document scanning, and other work that potentially provides them with other people’s Social Security numbers, says the Sacramento Bee. “One (California) prisoner found with confidential records reportedly asked an inmate serving time for identity theft to teach him how to use the information,” said a report from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General. The potential problems have prompted North Carolina to stop letting prisoners see Social Security numbers in their work assignments. Kentucky uses computer software to redact Social Security numbers from documents processed by inmates. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are considering a nationwide ban on prisoners’ access to the numbers. The federal Bureau of Prisons already prohibits such access.
By law, California prison inmates aren’t supposed to have access to confidential information. Nonetheless, federal investigators noted in their report that California prisoners had gained access to Social Security numbers, pension information, and birth dates found in a prison warehouse. Tthe description matches events that a lawsuit alleges occurred at the high-security Pelican Bay State Prison. A lawsuit filed by the prison guards union against the state alleges that Pelican Bay inmates have been found on many occasions with guards’ private information. Few prisoners have access to personal information. Only about 1,400 inmates, including 426 in California, had such access in 1999, said the U.S. Government Accountability Office.