Convicted felons are not eligible for Social Security benefits while they are in prison for one simple reason: Benefits are designed to help people meet their food, medical and shelter needs. Prison may be very different than home, but it still meets those basic needs. Your benefits can be reinstated as soon as you are released from prison, but it doesn't always happen right away.
If you've been convicted of a felony and incarcerated for more than 30 continuous days, your benefits are suspended. You don't receive any benefits that you may be eligible for until you're released, which may require a new benefits application, depending on the length of your prison sentence.
Individuals released from prison may be eligible for Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability benefits if they have worked or paid into Social Security enough years, or Supplemental Security Income benefits if they are 65 or older, are blind or a disability, and have little or no income and resources.
Supplemental Security Income Benefits
If someone who receives SSI benefits is incarcerated for more than 30 continuous days, their benefits are suspended. Additionally, benefits are not paid to a person who is confined in an institution at public expense in connection with a criminal case if the court finds that the person is one of the following: guilty, but insane, not guilty of the offense by reason of insanity or similar, or incompetent to stand trial. In general, felony offenses carry a minimum sentence of one year in prison, meaning the felon must file a new benefits application upon release. (Payments are automatically reinstated the month following release for sentences less than 12 consecutive months.)
If you are receiving Social Security retirement or disability, your benefits will stop if you are institutionalized for more than 30 continuous days after a crime conviction. However, benefits to any dependent spouse or children will continue as long as they remain eligible. Your disability benefits can be restarted the month after you are released if you visit your local Social Security office with proof of your release. Under Social Security Administration rules, you are disabled if you cannot do work that you did before, you cannot perform other work because of your medical condition, and your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
Prerelease Agreement With the SSA
If the prison you are in has a prerelease agreement with the SSA, you (or the prison's representative on your behalf) may contact Social Security 90 days before your scheduled release date. This allows SSI or disability benefits to start as soon as possible after release.