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Colorado Community Corrections Confinees Eligible for Workers' Compensation

A Colorado court of appeals held that a community corrections program (CCP) is not a jail or prison, and therefore workers' compensation benefits should not be suspended for prisoners participating in CCPs.

Hilario Vasquez, a participant in a Colorado CCP, was injured on the job and became eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Later he was convicted of a felony and sentenced to six years in a CCP. Initially there was no room available in a CCP, so Vasquez was confined at the county jail. Space became available in a CCP that was located in the county jail three days later. Although housed at the jail, Vasquez was not subject to the same restrictions as jail prisoners; specifically, he was allowed to leave the jail to go to work.

Vasquez's employer filed for repayment of the workers' compensation benefits, citing § 8-42-113911, C.R.S. 2003, which suspends such benefits for anyone "confined in a jail, prison, or any department of corrections facility." An Administrative Law Judge agreed with the employer, holding that residency in a county jail pursuant to a CCP was confinement in jail that rendered Vasquez ineligible to receive benefits. Therefore, Vasquez would have to repay the benefits. Vasquez appealed to a panel of the Colorado Industrial Claims Appeals Office. The panel set aside the judge's order, holding that Vasquez was not required to repay the benefits. The employer appealed to the court of appeals.

The appellate court held that because 17-27-102(3), C.R.S. 2003 defines a CCP loosely, allowing CCPs to be operated by private individuals, corporations, partnerships or associations, as well as local governments, and that CCPs include both residential and nonresidential supervision, such programs were not prisons or jails. Furthermore, CCPs "are specifically excluded from the definition of a minimum security DOC facility.
Section 17-25-101(2), C.R.S. 2003; see People v. Hoechera, 822 P.2d 8, 1.1 (Colo. 1991) (community corrections is more severe than probation, but not as harsh as a sentence to imprisonment in a correctional facility under the control of the DOC.)" Therefore, the court found, a CCP is not a jail, prison or DOC facility, and participants in CCPs should not have their workers' compensation benefits suspended.

It does not matter if the CCP is located in a jail and the CCP participant housed at a jail. Nor did the few days that Vasquez was a jail prisoner while awaiting space in a CCP matter for the purpose of determining his status as a CCP participant. He was entitled to his workers' compensation benefits. See: City and County of Denver v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 98 P.3d 969 (Colo.App., 2004).

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Related legal case

City and County of Denver v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office