TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, Senator Linda Greenstein and Senate President Steve Sweeney establishing compensation programs for certain officers and staff who are injured while performing official duties cleared the full Senate today.
S-596 will cover state corrections officers, juvenile corrections officers, juvenile detention officers, human services officers, park police and conservation officers who, in the course of performing their official duties, suffer bodily injury as the result of a riot or assault by inmates under their custody. Parole officers injured while performing their duties by someone under their supervision would also be covered. Furthermore, civilian employees who work directly with inmates or detainees would also be included under the bill’s provisions, as well as probation officers who suffer bodily injury as the result of an assault committed by an inmate, detainee, or person on probation while engaged in official duties. The bill was amended to Palisades Interstate Park officers, campus police officers appointed by a county college or four year public institution of higher education, and medical security officers under the supervision of the Department of Human Services.
Two attacks in three months on officers were documented by the press. The most recent attack was reported this year in the The Star-Ledger. That attack happened December 31, 2016 at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway. The officer was attacked by an inmate and treated at the hospital for several injuries. In September 2016, another attack was profiled. The Star-Ledger reported that a Burlington County corrections officer was attacked by an inmate at Albert Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Burlington County. According to the article, the officer was punched 36 times in the head. He was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton, where he received several stitches for a split lip. The corrections officer also suffered bruises to his face and head. In both cases, the officer went on medical leave following the incident.
“One attack on an officer is too many, which is why something has to be done. We are finding that too often, corrections officers must wait weeks before receiving their temporary disability benefits, and the amount collected is often considerably less than the full salary, causing unwanted and unneeded financial stress,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This legislation will help to provide some relief to the men and women who do this job, by giving them the ability to apply for compensation pay so they won’t have to pay an even higher price for their injury.”
Corrections Officers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations, according to the United States Department of Labor. Injuries are often covered to some degree by worker’s compensation but, by law, an individual must be unable to work for seven days before being eligible for temporary benefits. This bill attempts to reduce the financial stress placed upon officers who have suffered an injury as a result of a workplace attack. The bill would establish a program to cover the shortfall caused by the delay in worker’s compensation benefits or the difference between the amount recovered through benefits and the amount the officer would have earned had the attack never occurred.
“Many officers work in environments where they can never let their guard down and who risk being attacked at any moment, which is a scary thought,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This bill aims to make those officers who are injured, financially whole by covering whatever shortfall is caused by the delay of worker’s compensation benefits and providing them with the income they would have had if the unfortunate attack hadn’t occurred.”
“The men and women who are responsible for maintaining security in prisons and jails are doing jobs that can become extremely dangerous at any time,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem). “Corrections officers are exposed to the threat of injury on a daily basis. They can be the target of attacks that can cause serious harm and even put their lives at risk. They deserve better protections and safeguards. This bill will establish a program to make sure officers and staff members who are hurt on the job are fairly compensated while they are on leave.”
Under the bill, the injured officer would be entitled to receive his or her full salary until worker’s compensation payments begin. The bill would also allow the injured officer to receive supplemental payments from his or her employer in an amount that, when added to any worker’s compensation payments, would equal the net wage of the injured officer at the time of the injury. The payments would continue as long as the officer remains a corrections or parole officer and continues to receive worker’s compensation.
The bill cleared the Senate 34-0 and cleared the Assembly 62-4-2 last month. The bill now goes to the governor.