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By Christopher Zoukis

Today we have an interesting case out of Malta, where a prisoner is asserting that he is entitled to his full retirement pension benefits even though he is currently incarcerated in a prison.

The story starts in 2003 when a man by the name of Paul Hill attempted to murder Victor Testa by repeatedly beating him in the head with a wooden plank.  Come August 2004, Mr. Hill was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.  Upon appeal, the Court of Appeal reduced Mr. Hill’s sentence to 12 years imprisonment.

Prior to Mr. Hill’s imprisonment, he was an employee of Air Malta.  In 2011, he turned 61, the age his retirement pension would vest.  As such, while in prison, he applied for pension benefits.

While Mr. Hill’s pension application was accepted, a decision was made against him which stated that he would only receive half of his pension while in custody.  This way his wife would be supported while he was in prison, and that upon his release from custody he would receive his full pension benefits.

The case becomes even more convoluted when the Social Security Department uncovered that Mr. Hill’s wife was already receiving an invalid pension.  This resulted in an agreement being struck between the Social Security Department and Mr. Hill’s wife which stipulated that she was ineligible for half of Mr. Hill’s pension.  Since she had already received 9,257 Euros of Mr. Hill’s pension, she agreed to reimburse the Social Security Department with 5 percent of each future payment, until the 9,257 Euros issued to her in error were paid back.

Following this decision, the Hills decided to file in court.  They argued that since Mr. Hill had paid his social security contributions in full, and that since he still had to support his wife outside of prison, that he was entitled to the full pension benefits.  They argued that not to do so was discriminatory behavior on the part of the government against inmates and their families.  This argument was struck down by Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon, who asserted that, “The fact is that Hill is an inmate and as such is only entitled to half his pension[.]”

As a matter of principle, the Prison Law Blog strongly supports Mr. Hill’s position that since he fulfilled his retirement requirements prior to his incarceration and contributed in full to his pension, that he should be eligible for all of the benefits.  Just because someone goes to prison does not mean that all of the hard, honest work they did prior to the instance of crime in their life should be discarded.  Several decades working in a business should not be erased just because someone goes to prison after they’ve already qualified for retirement benefits.  That’s just plain wrong.

Now, laws will differ by jurisdiction and locale.  This is what appears to have happened in this case out of Malta.  The law of the land appears to stipulate that prisoners are eligible to receive half of their pension benefits.  While this doesn’t sit terribly well with us at the Prison Law Blog, it’s much better than excluding prisoners from receiving pension benefits at all.  And since Mr. Hill will be eligible for pension benefits upon his release, some of this perceived damage is, at least in our minds, negated.  Regardless of that, just because someone commits a crime does not mean that what they have earned lawfully should be taken from them.  Likewise, it is just plain wrong to punish the families of inmates — who might be relying on their incarcerated husbands for financial support — because their loved one has broken the law.  Perhaps an unpopular standpoint, but one we at the Prison Law Blog are willing to stand behind.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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