Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Prisoners In 13 States Allowed Work-Access To Social Security Numbers

by John E. Dannenberg

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reported that prisoners in thirteen states had access to Social Security numbers (SSNs) during the course of their prison employment. Following a nationwide survey, the OIG recommended that this access be curtailed to prevent identity theft, although none was reported.

The incidents occurred when prisoners were employed in ?Correctional Industries? jobs where they were processing data, microfilm, order forms or scanning digital data (typically for private firms). The thirteen states were Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia. Only Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee had such activity in more than one prison; the federal Bureau of Prisons reported none. In a 1999 federal Government Accountability Office study, 1,400 prisoners nationwide (429 in California) were reportedly employed processing sensitive data.

Tennessee permitted prisoners to scan and enter motor vehicle titles, registration forms, citation information and insurance cancellation data -- often with SSNs. Oklahoma permitted prisoners to process SSN-containing payroll records, vehicle titles and medical records onto microfilm. Nebraska allowed prisoners to enter SSNs from wage and medical claims records, as well as to process prison purchase orders containing the sellers? taxpayer identification numbers. Safeguards in place included video camera monitoring, searching of prisoner workers and counting documents after each shift. Kentucky used software to redact sensitive data from prisoner-processed documents.

While no SSN compromises were detected among workers (who were being trained for post-prison employment), security breaches were reported of unintended access to SSNs elsewhere. In California?s Pelican Bay State Prison, workers in a prison warehouse found boxes of records containing guards? SSNs and medical records, and gave them to a convicted identity-theft prisoner to teach others how to use the illicit data. See story in this issue of PLN.

Notwithstanding the absence of security problems in the thirteen states, and based solely on fear-mongering, U.S. Congress Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) introduced a national bill recently to prohibit any prisoner from having access to SSNs. Co-sponsored by 44 members of the House of Representatives, the bill was last reported languishing. See: OIG Report No. A-08-06-16082 (August 2006).

Additional Sources: Arizona Daily Star, Sacramento Bee

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login