Massachusetts prison officials are alerting inmates just before they are released on how to apply for welfare in a new pilot program that includes making the cons “aware of how to self-identify as disabled,” the Boston Herald reports. The Department of Correction policy is intended to ensure eligible inmates don’t face a gap in assistance after finishing their sentences. It is riling a welfare benefits watchdog, who fears the program could open the door to unqualified applicants trying to get on the rolls. “Look, if someone is truly disabled we want to get them the help they need. But we should not be encouraging people to find ways to qualify for Social Security Disability,” said state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell. “What we should be doing is job training and education and encouraging people to get work when they’re released from prison.”
Christopher Fallon, a corrections department spokesman, said the goal of the policy is cut down on the inmates’ “risk for homelessness, drug addiction, and other circumstances that led them to commit crimes.” Fallon said, “During re-entry planning, inmates are made aware of the benefits potentially available to them upon release, whether and how to apply is entirely up to the inmate.” Leslie Walker of Prisoner Legal Services said the organization has pushed the state to adopt federal Social Security Administration guidelines that allow for such pre-release arrangements and inmates to start the application process before their sentence is done.