California Prison Law and the Rights of Inmates

California Prison Law and the Rights of Inmates

A Closer Look at California Prisoner Rights to Workers’ Compensation

Among the thousands of firefighters battling the wildfires last fall, 30 to 40 percent of them were California state prisoners. These individuals earned $1 per hour working in extremely hazardous conditions, facing the possibility of burn injuries and smoke inhalation. Correctional facilities deploying inmates to fight fires is a well-documented practice in California and beyond. In addition to firefighting, prisoners are also contracted to work other dangerous jobs including electronics recycling, harvesting crops in backbreaking conditions, and even rodeo clowning. 

Many labor programs place California state prisoners in unfavorable and even toxic work environments. Fortunately, these individuals are protected under workers’ compensation law for injuries sustained on the job while incarcerated.

Prisoner Rights to Workers’ Compensation

When an individual enters the prison system, he or she inherently gives up certain fundamental rights – such as the right to vote. In many states, inmates surrender their right to workers’ compensation if they get hurt as a result of their job while incarcerated. Fortunately, California state prisoners are granted medical treatment and disability benefits in the event of injury as long as the injury adheres to the basic requirements of any workers’ compensation claim.

For a prisoner to qualify for workers’ compensation in California, the following criteria must be true:

  • The injury was caused by job duties related to the employment.
  • The injury occurred during the course of employment.
  • The injury was not self-inflicted or intentional.
  • The worker was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • The injury was not caused by an illegal act of the worker.
  • The injury was not caused by a fight provoked by the worker. 

If the above requirements are satisfied, a California state prisoner may file a workers’ compensation claim to receive medical treatment and collect disability benefits. However, because prisoners are paid such little money, the way disability benefits are calculated is different than an employee in the outside world.

Disability Benefits for California State Prisoners

Outside of prison, disability benefits are calculated by looking at an employee’s average weekly wage along with the type and severity of the injury. Since California state prisoners make next to nothing, their disability benefits are calculated according to their anticipated future earning capacity. That is, the wage a prisoner can expect to earn at a job for which he or she is qualified upon release. Unlike regular employees, who begin receiving disability benefits as soon as their workers’ comp claims are accepted, benefits aren’t paid to prisoners until they are released from a correctional facility. Once a prisoner rejoins the community, he or she can start collecting the disability benefits that accumulated while incarcerated. These funds provide a safety net as an ex-prisoner attempts to secure housing and employment. 

We defend the rights of California state prisoners

California state prisoners have to give up a lot of their rights when they’re locked behind bars, but workers’ compensation isn’t one of them. This is fortunate because inmates are often placed in dangerous work environments where they’re at risk for serious injury or even death. If you or someone you know is incarcerated and has been injured on the job, call us. 

At the Law Office of Gerald Brody & Associates, our workers’ comp attorneys fight hard to defend the rights of all workers, including prisoners. Your initial consultation is free, and you don’t pay anything until we win your case. Even then, your legal fees come out of your settlement, not your pocket.

Contact us today at (619) 528-9800 to collect the benefits you need for a better future.