Senate Labor Committee Rejects Measure Eliminating Financial Rewards to Inmates Claiming Work-Related Injuries

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) today presented Senate Bill 407 before the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. The measure would have ended the practice of paying temporary disability indemnity benefits to county and city inmates during their incarceration, bringing local incarceration policies in line with existing practices at state prisons and creating cost savings for city and county governments.

“Government’s first responsibility is to keep its citizens safe. At a time when local governments are struggling to make ends meet and are facing the prospect of a huge influx of new inmates, we must give city and county governments every opportunity to allocate their limited resources in a way that prioritizes public safety,” said Sen. Cannella. “Whoever said, ‘Crime doesn’t pay’ clearly never visited California.  Eliminating temporary disability benefits for city and county inmates would remove the financial incentive of claiming a work-related injury while incarcerated and would free up precious resources that local governments can spend on other law enforcement and public safety priorities.”

Under current law, inmates in many county and city jails who are injured during their incarceration are eligible to collect both temporary and permanent disability benefits. Because most counties and cities are self-insured, they are required to directly pay the costs associated with securing these benefits, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. These temporary disability benefits are paid to the inmate even if he or she was not employed prior to incarceration – meaning some injured inmates are actually making more money in jail than they were while free and able-bodied. In contrast, inmates in state correctional facilities are not entitled to temporary disability benefits while they are incarcerated.

“It is outrageous that our county is being forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in disability benefits to convicts while we are being forced to lay off deputies and other law enforcement agents at the very same time,” added Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who testified in support of the measure. “SB 407 was a common-sense measure designed to bring consistency to our state’s incarceration practices, curb abuse of our state’s workers’ compensation laws by criminals, and help local law enforcement agencies keep our streets and communities safe.”

“Particularly in light of the state’s plan to shift responsibility for many critical public safety services to cities and counties, it’s only fair that the state also remove the undue burden on local governments caused by having to pay temporary disability indemnity benefits to inmates,” Cannella continued. “It’s disappointing, therefore, that my colleagues have rejected this sensible measure.”

SB 407 was rejected by the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee by a vote of 2 to 5.