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Court restores unemployment benefits for incarcerated Maine workers

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Joel Page
/
Associated Press file
Corrections officers and female inmates are seen Friday, Sept. 5, 2003, at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine.

Fifty four incarcerated workers can expect to see their unemployment benefits returned under a class action settlement reached with the State of Maine and approved by the U.S. District Court.

In March 2020, the workers were told they could no longer work at their jobs in the community because of the pandemic. But the Maine Department of Labor found them eligible for special COVID-19 unemployment benefits and began making weekly cash payments into their prison accounts after deductions were taken out for room and board, child support, restitution and other debts.

Then, about six weeks later, without notice or hearing, the state removed the workers’ unemployment benefits — just over $163,000 — from their prison accounts.

The court-approved settlement returns the benefits that were taken from them. David Webbert, an attorney for the workers, says the settlement also recognizes that money in incarcerated individuals’ prison accounts is their property and cannot be seized without due process.

The workers are expected to see their money returned by Sept. 14.