People in prison can claim a stimulus check up to $1,200, but there’s a deadline. What to know

Laveta Brigham

A federal judge has ordered the IRS to issue stimulus checks to eligible people even if they’re incarcerated.  Sarah Tew/CNET Backed by a ruling from a federal judge in California as part of a class-action lawsuit, the IRS is now sending correctional facilities across the US forms to distribute to the 2.3 million […]


A federal judge has ordered the IRS to issue stimulus checks to eligible people even if they’re incarcerated. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Backed by a ruling from a federal judge in California as part of a class-action lawsuit, the IRS is now sending correctional facilities across the US forms to distribute to the 2.3 million people residing in US jails and prisons so they can file a claim for a stimulus check of up to $1,200 per person. But there’s a steep deadline: Nov. 4 for all claims sent in the mail and Nov. 21 for claims made online.

“We urge you to distribute the printed materials to people within your custody as expeditiously as possible … so that they may mail claims by November 4, 2020, the deadline for postmarking claims,” the IRS letter says, according to The Courier Journal. “This money can be invaluable to help people starting over,” said Brittany Herrington, a program coordinator with a mental health center in Kentucky, the paper reported.

It’s up to the facilities to pass around the forms to people in their populations and collect and mail the paperwork by the deadline, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported Friday. Access to the internet may be limited and vary from state to state.

Since the IRS began issuing stimulus checks back in April, incarcerated people throughout the US have had to navigate confusing and often contradictory information about whether they could collect the money. First, the IRS sent money to people in jail and prison, then the agency asked for the money back (cached IRS website). 

Although the IRS has already appealed the decision and requested an injunction against the current ruling, for now the agency’s website acknowledges the ruling that “the IRS cannot deny a payment to someone who is incarcerated if they meet the criteria.”

However, with a tight deadline for the paperwork and little to no internet access, filing that claim could present some hurdles. We’ll tell you what you need to know about how to notify the IRS about an incarcerated person’s eligibility and where to send the money. And we’ll answer other questions you may have about stimulus checks being sent to those who are incarcerated. 

Here’s what we know about qualifications for the second stimulus check, where negotiations stand on a new stimulus bill and when a second stimulus check could arrive. This story was updated with new information.

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Can people in jail or prison get a stimulus check?

Right now, the answer is yes, but that could change if a judge rules in favor of the IRS with regard to its appeal.

Who’s eligible to receive the first check?

Anyone who’s eligible to receive a stimulus check is eligible to receive one even if they are incarcerated. Check our complete stimulus guide for more details.

How does someone who’s incarcerated request a check?

The IRS says information can be provided using the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here online tool by Nov. 21, or you can file a 2019 simplified paper tax return following the instructions on the File a Simplified Paper Tax Return page. The deadline for filing a paper return is Nov. 4.


Incarcerated people rarely if ever have access to the internet, yet IRS instructions for notifying the agency require it.

Angela Lang/CNET

Can someone else request a stimulus payment for the incarcerated person?

Most jails and prisons do not allow internet access, or allow limited access to email, for example, to those incarcerated in them, so it seems improbable if not impossible that individuals themselves could follow the IRS’ instructions for providing information online. The instructions on the IRS website don’t explicitly say that a representative friend or family member can notify the IRS regarding an incarcerated person, so the answer isn’t clear. There is also the option to fill out paperwork by the Nov. 4 deadline.

Can the IRS make you send a payment back?

According to tax experts who spoke to MarketWatch, the CARES Act did not include a “clawback” provision that would allow the IRS to force people who received stimulus checks in error to return those checks. So far, the IRS has not indicated there will be any kind of penalty for not sending back stimulus payments, although the agency does make its expectation clear and has a web page that details the process for returning stimulus payments. Either way, the question is moot so long as the current federal court order still stands.

The IRS asks recipients to return checks for people who have recently died and people who received additional money in error, for example, if they received two payments instead of one, or are a citizen of another country that is not a US territory. For example, dozens of Austrian citizens reportedly received $1,200 bank transfers representing stimulus money, in error. 


You can contact the IRS directly if you have more questions about receiving a stimulus check for an incarcerated individual. 

Angela Lang/CNET

What if the inmate’s spouse received a stimulus check?

If you received a stimulus check that included money intended for a spouse who is incarcerated (or was at the time) and you returned your spouse’s portion to the IRS, the exact path to getting a replacement check issued it’s totally clear. You could start by calling the IRS at the number listed in the letter sent along with paper stimulus checks, 800-919-9835, or the main IRS help number, 800-829-1040.

You could also look up your spouse’s information on the IRS’s Get My Payment tool and, depending on the information you get from there, try entering their information in the Non-Filers tool.

For more stimulus check information pertaining to your unique situation, check out our guides to stimulus checks and child support, stimulus checks for older adults and how to report a missing check to the IRS.

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