After attacks on corrections officers, PBA pushes compensation bill
In the wake of another inmate attack on a New Jersey state corrections officer, the union representing prison and parole officers is renewing its push to pass a bill establishing a compensation program for workers who are injured while performing official duties.
The bill, S-596/A-3422, was originally sponsored by Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) earlier this year and calls for the injured officer to get a full salary until worker’s compensation payments begin - a process that often takes several weeks. The bill also stipulates the officer would be entitled to supplemental payments that, when combined with worker’s comp, would equal the regular salary.
This latest push to advance the proposed legislation comes from PBA Local 105, which represents corrections officers in New Jersey. It comes on the heels of an inmate attack on an officer at South Woods State Prison, a medium security facility in Bridgeton, according to Brian Renshaw, president of PBA Local 105. In a statement Wednesday, Renshaw said the incident took place Tuesday around 8 p.m. and involved a male corrections officer.
According to the PBA president, an inmate was being escorted from his cell to a recreation room when the alleged attack took place.
"Statements from witnesses along with review of the video surveillance shows that the inmate began closed-fist punching SCO Victor Tapia. Responding officers were able to take down and cuff the inmate within minutes of the attack," Renshaw said.
The warden of South Woods State Prison could not immediately be reached for comment on the incident.
Renshaw said Tapia received immediate treatment by the facility's medical staff and was then taken to Inspira Hospital for his injuries.
"PBA Local 105 Executive Board members Michael Gallagher and Todd McConnell, along with many additional officers and personnel, stayed at Inspira Hospital overnight to comfort SCO Tapia during a very difficult time," Renshaw said in his statement.
Earlier this year, another violent inmate attack on a corrections officer took place. In February, Andrea Berry, a corrections officer at Southern State Prison, was trying to help her partner who was struggling with an inmate, when she was attacked and punched multiple times until being knocked unconscious. A month after the attack, Berry told NJ 101.5 that she was still waiting for worker's compensation to kick in and she was not receiving a salary or benefits to help care for her children.
“These attacks are occurring too often," Renshaw said. "We need to give our officers all the tools and resources necessary to protect themselves and the inmates they guard. There are many contributing factors for attacks like these, notably inadequate staff levels and overall decreased funding for our statewide corrections system. Attacks like the one we saw yesterday on SCO Tapia and the overall dangers faced by correction officers show the urgent need for S-596/A-3422."
Renshaw said the legislation was written for corrections and parole officers in New Jersey "to ensure they will not be asked to receive anything less than full pay for injuries suffered at the hands of inmates inside New Jersey’s prisons." Under the proposed bill, injured officers would receive full wages until compensation for the injury kicks in.
Without this legislation, injured corrections officers are only eligible to receive 70 percent of their salary, as well as out-of-pocket payments for health care coverage, according to Renshaw. Other members of law enforcement typically receive 100 percent, the PBA president said.
“Officers should not have to worry about their family’s well-being or how they will make their next mortgage payment if there is an inmate attack. Our officers face potential violence everyday just by going to work and we have an obligation to make sure they are receiving the appropriate benefits when a tragedy like this occurs again," Renshaw added.
In February, the bill's sponsor told NJ 101.5 that the bill is extremely important now, when prisons are being consolidated and reforms are being implemented because many prisoners are more violent and dangerous than they used to be.
“This is not a situation where you have a workplace accident that may occur, this is not an accident, these are crimes being committed against these employees and we want to make sure the state is there to stand behind them when they’re injured,” Benson said.
PBA Local 105 represents nearly 6,000 active state corrections, juvenile justice and parole officers in New Jersey and more than 12,000 retirees.
David Matthau contributed to this report.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.
More from NJ 101.5: