DID YOU KNOW that Philadelphia prison inmates collected unemployment benefits while sitting in their cells?

They did: 1,162 of them got an average of $344 a week for, on average, 18 weeks. That's more than $7 million.

And many of the 25,500 inmates in other county jails in Pennsylvania did the same.

We're talking cash for cons - tens of millions of tax dollars paid by employers and employees fraudulently scammed by incarcerated crooks.

Makes you want to get up every day, go to work and pay your taxes, right?

Well, hold on. Before you pick up torches and pitchforks, you should know that the state says such payments are ending under a program put in place by the Corbett administration, and unemployment-compensation payments to 3,000 inmates have stopped, saving up to $18 million a year.

But how'd this cons' con happen?

"Not sure," says Philadelphia Prison System information officer Shawn Dawes. "It just wasn't on anybody's radar."

Philly prisons commissioner Louis Giorla issued a statement to the Daily News praising state efforts, adding: "Offenders who are already in custody and supported by public funds should not be able to collect twice."

But they did. And getting the money back, even by attaching tax returns of scammers, is difficult, officials concede.

Such abuse isn't new, or unique to Pennsylvania.

A recent audit in South Carolina showed that inmates were getting unemployment benefits. Last year, Arizona found that 475 felons collected $1.1 million.

Still, the apparent scope of the problem here, its duration and the curiously quiet way it's being dealt with raises questions for which there seem to be few answers.

For example: How'd it happen?

Well, state corrections officials, since 1997, have linked with the Department of Labor and Industry to match incoming state prisoners' Social Security numbers with unemployment-compensation records to stop any benefits.

But it was only last month that Labor and Industry issued a news release - missed by most, apparently reported only by the online news service Paindependent.com and not available on Labor and Industry's website - announcing a "new cross-match system to identify and stop benefit payments" to county prisoners.

http://www.philly.com/philly/columni...mployment.html