According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, hundreds of thousands of unemployment benefits have been illegally given to county jail inmates over the last three years. A total of 1,900-plus inmates received them.

  The results of an audit showed that since June 2013 through September 2014, some $650,000 in benefits were paid to these inmates, which is illegal. Janet Guthrie, Communications Director for Employment Security, says much of the problem is linked to data access and information.

The audit looked at at least eight different jails, including Spokane and Yakima, and found the discrepancies. Because the Employment Security Department (ESD) does NOT have access to confidential jail records, they usually have little or no way of knowing if an unemployment recipient has been incarcerated.

For example, you could be on unemployment, get busted for a DUI, and still get benefits because ESD never finds out you're in jail.

Some $100,000 of the money has already been recovered, says Guthrie. Steps are now being taken to provide more information to the ESD so they can routinely check recipients and make sure they've not been arrested and jailed.

In most cases, it's illegal for inmates to receive benefits because to get unemployment, you must certify you are available and ready to work should a job come up. Obviously, if you're in jail, you're not available for work!

While some stop-gap measures are being put in place, Guthrie says eventually the legislature will have to pass bills that will allow ESD to have jail record access to prevent this from happening in the future.



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