BOSTON — A federal appeals court is considering a lawsuit brought by Maine prison inmates who were denied unemployment benefits for work-release jobs they lost during the pandemic.

The 53 prisoners sued after they lost nearly $200,000 in unemployment benefits when the governor ruled that they were not entitled to the money.

The governor contended the payments were “bad public policy” even though the attorney general found that they were legal.

The U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston heard arguments Monday.

“The central argument that we’ve made all along is that these individuals should have had some sort of notice or hearing before their benefits were taken,” said Carol Garvan, who argued the case on Monday.

All told, the prisoners received $198,767 in unemployment benefits with an average amount of $3,750 before the governor intervened to stop the payments. The benefits included an extra $600 per week through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.


Garvan’s client worked as a restaurant cook in a work-release program while incarcerated at Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.

The prisoner received more than $10,000 in unemployment benefits. About $8,400 of that was in enhanced benefits provided by Congress. He has since been released from prison.

In putting a stop to the benefits, the governor found the payments to be “appalling and to be bad public policy” and said they should be reserved for Mainers “struggling to pay for basic necessities.”

A federal judge granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but Garvan wants the lawsuit to be reinstated. The inmates’ unemployment benefits were placed in trusts pending the outcome of the litigation.

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