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Lawmakers seek to increase benefits for injured prison employees

There's no doubt that being a corrections officer in a prison is one of the most dangerous jobs that a person could undertake. According to the unions who represent these officers in New Jersey, there's been an increase in violence by inmates in our state. Officers in juvenile corrections facilities have also suffered serious injuries at the hands of their young charges.

These attacks, which often involve severe beatings, can lead to long-term and even permanent injury. Although officers who are attacked by an inmate or injured during a riot can receive worker's compensation, their benefits and salary are reduced while they recover. This is in contrast to many New Jersey police officers who continue to receive full benefits and salary following an injury. Further, according to two corrections officers who spoke on the issue, the state workers' compensation fund hasn't even approved their requests for MRIs to fully determine the extent of their injuries.

Some New Jersey state legislators are seeking to help remedy this problem by establishing a fund to help officers working in these facilities who "suffer bodily injury as the result of a riot or assault by the inmates or detainees under their custody and care."

Although the bill was approved last session by the senate, it did not come up for a vote in the assembly. Therefore, the process has to begin again. It's back in committee waiting for a vote.

As one of the bill's sponsors noted, inmate attacks need to be treated differently than a workplace accident. He said, "These are crimes being committed against these employees."

Union officials have blamed the rise in attacks on the failure of prosecutors to charge the perpetrators with crimes and the decreasing likelihood that attackers will be placed in solitary confinement. A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, however, argues that solitary confinement not only is excessive punishment, but it doesn't deter violence against prison officers.

Although corrections' officers work in a particularly dangerous environment surrounded by people convicted for violent crimes, workplace violence is a growing problem in this country in all lines of work. Those injured in an act of workplace violence would be wise to seek legal advice to help ensure that they are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled.

Source: NJ.com, "N.J. prisons see spike in inmate attacks on corrections officers, unions say," S.P. Sullivan, Feb. 22, 2016

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