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Our View: Jail jobless

Updated: November 17, 2012 6:04AM

We hope authorities throw the book at the more than 1,100 jail inmates in Illinois who improperly collected unemployment benefits totaling more than $2 million while incarcerated during the last year.

Sixteen of them were in Lake County, collecting $76,017 in jobless benefits. The largest payout to a Lake County inmate was $18,722, which is dwarfed by one Cook County Jail inmate who collected almost $43,000, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

While IDES officials have indicated that many of the recipients could face charges, some may have been paid too little to make prosecution worthwhile. The department says it will also garnish tax returns where it can to recover money.

To us, trying to collect unemployment benefits which you don’t deserve is outright fraud and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Wage garnishment alone doesn’t send a message to these scammers who already were in jail for some sort of criminal activity.

It’s obvious to us that examples must be made to alert future inmates trying to cash in on jobless funds they have no right to collect. That money is for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The roughly 250,000 Illinoisans collecting unemployment benefits have to certify every two weeks that they’re still eligible. That includes showing they’re available to work and looking for a job.

While the $2 million may be only a tiny piece of Illinois’ multibillion-dollar budget deficit, saving any amount of tax dollars is all right with us. At the end of the day, fraud, inefficiency and abuse adds to more we have to pay, so we wonder through the years how much jail inmate jobless fraud has cost Illinois taxpayers.

Apparently, these jail scammers used the phone check-in system the IDES allows people collecting unemployment to use to certify that they’re looking for work and available to do it. Internet check-in is also available.

Surely, the state needs to take steps to make it more difficult for people to certify they’re looking for work and available to get a job. And getting laid off from jail work details doesn’t count.

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