Professional News
Prerelease Preparations Crucial
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 17 page 8-8

The Bazelon Center’s report on mentally ill jail inmates and Medicaid eligibility explains the Social Security Administration (SSA) program in which officials from jails and prisons (or any other institution) enter into a formal written or informal prerelease agreement with the local SSA office.

"In the prerelease agreement program, we get the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application process going before inmates are released," said Mark Hinkle, spokesperson for SSA. He noted that the program began in 1974 when SSI began.

"Local SSA employees train the jail’s case workers and social workers to identify inmates who may be eligible for SSI. This may include inmates whose SSI has been suspended or terminated as well as those applying for the first time.

"SSA employees review paperwork and have appropriate forms completed. In some situations, jail staff may help with the paperwork. The paperwork process typically begins 30 days before the inmate’s release," said Hinkle. "[Then] the SSA office processes applications from these jails as quickly as possible, so inmates can have benefits upon their release," Hinkle explained.

"For inmates whose SSI has been suspended, most of the forms can be filled out in the jail, and these individuals only need to complete a simple procedure upon their release," said Hinkle.

However, "for inmates who have to re-initiate the entire SSI application process, this can take several months to over a year, if a hearing or further appeals are required," according to Barbara Silverstone, staff attorney at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives.

When asked if this process would start earlier than 30 days before release for these inmates, Hinkle replied, "In some situations it can, and in others it can not, but at least we can get the process started."

Although SSA does not have data on how many jails are taking advantage of the prerelease program, Steadman and Brown said that "prerelease agreement programs in jails are very rare."

Information on the SSA’s prerelease program is available on the Web at www.ssa.gov/notices/supplemental-security-income/spot-prerelease.htm.

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