Potential Security Breach Leads to Replacement of Maryland Inmate Workers
(03/14/2012)

BALTIMORE — Some Medicaid users may be worried after auditors in Maryland revealed that inmates had access to patients’ Social Security numbers.

According to a Legislative Services report, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used inmate labor to enter physician Medicaid reimbursement claims into a database. Social Security numbers in the designated place on forms were automatically blacked out — but in some cases, numbers for the recipient and/or provider appeared in other locations on the form that were visible to inmates while processing the paperwork.

This occurred in roughly three out of 3,000 cases reviewed, when doctors’ offices mistakenly used a patient’s Social Security number as the account identifier, according to Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

In a response to the auditors’ claims, Maryland Correctional Enterprises, an industry arm of DPSCS that puts inmates to work, was notified that it would no longer be filling those jobs.

Now that Data Entry Co. has taken over data entry for the DHMH, the cost to do the same work has increased from 53 cents per claim to 96 cents per claim, according to the health department.

The inmates had been earning about $2 per day for their work, according to Binetti.

“We estimate that it will cost approximately $250,000 more a year to use the new vendor,” said DHMH spokeswoman Dori Henry.

DPSCS and DHMH believe that any misuse of Social Security information would have been detected.

“There was strict security in the room where this data entry took place, including four cameras and supervisory staff,” Binetti said. “Any recording of information by inmates off of these forms would have been noticed and caught.”

Binetti also noted that inmates are searched on their way out of the plant for any contraband. No inmate has been caught with any materials that would suggest a misuse or mishandling of data, he said.

Using inmates to work outside the prison grounds is a practice that goes back to the 19th century, according to MCE, which employed 1,855 prisoners in fiscal year 2011. The division brought in more than $50 million that year and provided more than 2.8 million hours of inmate employment and training.

Inmates worked in areas including furniture restoration, sign-making and relocation services.

The programs are designed to give prisoners training and skills they can take with them after they’re released. Providing jobs and training to inmates has also shown to reduce recidivism.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates can earn valuable job skills. The programs are designed to give prisoners helpful training and learn valuable industry skills that they can take with them after they’re released.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has recently praised their workforce program and believes it benefits inmates to be involved in the workforce.

“The city will continue to try to get as many (inmate) squads as we can,” said City Manager Bill Baine. “The needs of the city are almost infinite, and without the convicts helping keep the numerous creeks clear, we’d be in serious trouble.”

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