NJ prisoners received more than $23 million in benefits

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — New Jersey prisoners incorrectly received more than $23 million in unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other public assistance, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

Between July 2009 and April 2011, the state paid out the benefits to or on behalf of more than 20,000 incarcerated individuals who don’t appear to be entitled to the payments, according to a press release from State Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who led the audit.

More than $10 million of the payments were unemployment benefits paid out to more than 7,600 incarcerated individuals, according to the release. State law requires that only those whoa re “able” or “available” to work are eligible to receive unemployment.

“Suffice it to say that when thousands of inmates are collecting unemployment checks from behind bars, there is a serious gap in program oversight,” Boxer said in a statement.

The audit found that state agencies failed to review county inmate data, and in some cases state prison data, when awarding government assistance. One agency even told auditors it relied on newspaper reports to determine if program participants had been arrested or convicted of a crime.

The Comptroller’s office plans to ensure that the misspent funds are recovered and stricter oversight measures are implemented, the release said.

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