Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Raj Mukherji, Elizabeth Muoio, Jamel Holley, Shavonda Sumter, Joann Downey, Pamela Lampitt, Sheila Oliver, Joe Danielsen and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to support workers who are attacked while supervising inmates or detainees is now law.
Under previous law, a corrections officer or juvenile detention officer who was seriously injured after a prison inmate attack and could not work would not receive any salary while waiting for workers’ compensation to take effect, which could take several months.
A recent rise in attacks on corrections officers highlighted the need to address this gap in state statute, the sponsors noted.
“These officers assume a significant deal of risk every day on the job, yet they have been excluded from provisions that make compensation available to other public safety officers,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. “This new law is about taking action to eliminate that inconsistency so that people who put their lives on the line aren’t left helpless in the event of an attack.”
The new law (A-3422) establishes a compensation program to allow state corrections officers, juvenile corrections officers, juvenile detention officers and probation officers who suffer bodily injury as the direct result of an attack by inmates, detainees or other persons under their supervision to continue to receive full wages for up to six months, or until they begin receiving workers’ compensation payments, whichever comes first.
In addition to workers’ compensation, the injured employee also must receive regular supplemental payments from his or her employer in an amount that, when combined with workers’ compensation, equals his or her net wage at the time of the injury.
The law also applies to civilian employees who work directly with inmates or detainees, and to 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.
“Our dedicated public safety officers are serving courageously in hostile situations that can become violent at a moment’s notice, such as inmate fights or riots,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “These heroes in uniform shouldn’t have to worry that an unanticipated brutal attack in the line of duty could harm their families financially while recovering from their service-related injuries.”
“As it is, a public safety officer who gets attacked on the job essentially is punished for something he or she didn’t do,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “By ensuring that these officers have financial stability after an attack, we can make it clear that New Jersey supports these vital professions and remove a deterrent to entering or staying in that line of work.”
“Working in a correctional institution is not an easy job by any means. People who are in potentially dangerous situations every day should be able to rest assured that they’ll be taken care of if they’re injured on the job,” said Holley (D-Union). “This is a common-sense measure to make sure people working in New Jersey’s prisons and juvenile detention facilities have some peace of mind.”
“The injuries that corrections officers, parole officers and probation officers sustain when they’re assaulted while at work can be devastating, both physically and financially,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “When they’re trying to rest and recover from a traumatizing episode, these men and women shouldn’t also have to be concerned about how to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table.”
“Work-related injuries, especially those related to targeted acts of violence, should not be grounds for a reduction in pay,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “This law establishes fairness for the public safety officers who work hard every day in correctional facilities.”
“Public safety officers take on the stressful job of diffusing aggressive situations on a regular basis, and if they get hurt in the process, their families suffer,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Bridging the gap between an officer’s regular salary and workers’ compensation can help that officer focus on healing in the aftermath of an attack.”
“When a public safety officer’s worst fear – being attacked on the job – is realized, the stress and anxiety of that shouldn’t be compounded by an accompanying pay cut,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “The very least New Jersey can do for these officers is ensure that their ability to meet their financial obligations isn’t limited if they become the victim of a violent crime in the workplace.”
“People whose jobs require them to be in harm’s way need to know that they’ll be taken care of if they’re assaulted while at work,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset), vice-chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. “The work these men and women do is essential to maintaining order and public safety in our state, and it’s important that they know there’s a support system available to them.”
“The horrific attack at East Jersey State Prison that put an employee out of work months ago served as a tragic reminder of why this law is necessary,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “If other law enforcement officers are attacked on the job, they rightfully expect to receive enough compensation to cover their bills and take care of their families. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be the same for correctional officers.”
State Human Services police officers, conservation officers and state park police officers who suffer bodily injury as the result of an assault while engaged in the arrest, transportation or supervision of a suspect or person in their custody also are eligible for the compensation program under the new law, as are Palisades Interstate Park officers, campus police officers and medical security officers under the authority of the Department of Human Services.
The measure, which will take effect in October, received unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature before being signed into law.