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Go directly to jail, forfeit $200, but do collect pension

By Barbara Whelehan · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Posted: 4 pm ET

If you're a public official in Louisiana, you can commit a crime, go to prison and still collect state pension benefits. Is justice served?

According to an article in the Shreveport Times, House Bill 224 would have called for the suspension of retirement benefits while a corrupt official serves time in prison. Benefits would have resumed at the time the official was released.

Not a bad deal for ex-convicts, don't you think?

State Rep. Kevin Pearson offers this rationale for suspending benefits: Taxpayers pay for the costs of incarceration. Why should convicted public officials who violate the law and the public's trust get compensation from state coffers while they serve time?

But the Louisiana House of Representatives defeated the measure, in part because regular convicts who get regular pension benefits from regular employers don't have to give up their pensions while they're in jail.

Grass greener in jail

About 10 years ago, I was feeling oppressed by the responsibilities of life and wistfully spoke of going to jail to a colleague. "If only I could get in without committing a crime," I said. "Just think, in jail you have a roof over your head. You don't have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. You don't have to worry about saving enough money for retirement. I'd be free!" I said.

"Yeah, Barbara, you'd really be free in jail," my colleague replied sarcastically.

Now I'm really envious! These guys get to go to jail, AND they collect a pension check.

The Wall Street Journal today reports that inmates nationwide (and their families) are ordering food like meatball subs, pizzas, wings, cheeseburgers and club sandwiches, producing revenues for prisons and keeping peace in crowded jails.

On second thought, I probably wouldn't survive in jail on either junk food or rations from the prison commissary, picky eater that I am. I'd have to be able to order Ezekiel 4:9 bread, grain-fed beef and organic bananas, among other specific provisions.

Justice not warped in Illinois

In February, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that former Illinois Gov. George Ryan would not get a dime of his state pension, worth $197,000 a year, according to Plansponsor.com.

Ryan tried to at least get a portion of his pension after being convicted four years ago of committing mail fraud, money laundering, extortion, obstruction of justice and bribery while serving as secretary of state and governor between 1991 and 2003. He argued he was entitled to the $65,000 annual payout he'd earned prior to 1991, during years when he served as county board member, legislator and lieutenant governor.

Ryan was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and was sent to serve time in a federal minimum security prison camp in Oxford, Wis.

Maybe justice was served in this case. But I wonder how the food is served up.

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Do you think public officials should collect a pension during and after serving time in prison? Share your thoughts.

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