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California Prisoner Workers’ Compensation Eligibility Questioned By Legislators

California Prisoner Workers' Compensation Eligibility Questioned by Legislators

by John E. Dannenberg

In 2006, the California state Compensation Insurance Fund paid $5.73 million to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to cover prisoner workers' compensation claims. This figure includes claims for parolees unable to work because of their prison job injuries, retraining expenses for injured prisoners, medical expenses for job-related injuries and monthly insurance premiums for injured prisoners.

Senator Dave Cogdill, (R-Modesto) recently questioned whether it is fiscally responsible for taxpayers to cover prisoner job-injury costs, especially relatively minor ones. His 2003 bill to restrict such compensation for prisoners failed in committee. Some of the injuries covered included abrasions, burns, bruises, bone fractures, cuts, heat exhaustion, poison oak, punctures, dislocations, sprains, strains, insect bites and bee stings. Rejected claims in 2005-2006 included indigestion, cramps, high pulse, strained testicles, dehydration, toothache and valley fever.

Prisoners are covered by law for job-related injuries. The Compensation Fund paid more to CDCR in 2006 than it did to Fish and Game, Conservation Corps, and Parks and Recreation. (However, the latter departments don't have near CDCR's 175,000 eligible workers.) At the Sierra Conservation Center state prison (which also operates 19 fire camps), 311 claims were filed in 2006, 72% of which were denied. This was down from the record in 2005, where 296 were denied out of 433 claims filed. Considering the dangers inherent in fire-fighting in California's rugged mountains, these claims seem not unreasonable. Prisoners are not compensated while they are still incarcerated, only when they are paroled and still unable to work. The average benefit runs $127 per week.

Nonetheless, Republican legislators keep raising the issue. In 2004, Senator Jeff Denham (R-Merced) tried again to exempt prisoners from such compensation. It proved unsuccessful because legislators feared that this would only shift the burden to individual counties and open them to prisoner lawsuits.

Source: Union Democrat

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