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Inmate assaults and work injuries in correctional facilities

Working in a prison or jail is dangerous work. Attacks by inmates on staff can occur at any time, especially in high-security facilities.

When an attack occurs, it is only natural for an injured correctional officer or other employee to wonder about workers' compensation. This is true not only in Pennsylvania, but in other states as well.

In a recent case in Minnesota, an inmate attacked two prison workers without justification or warning. Both workers had to be hospitalized.

One of the workers was an employee whose role was correctional officer. The other worker was employed by a contract food service. The inmate approached the two workers in the dining hall of a prison - and suddenly began beating them. The attacker was subdued after other officers rushed to the scene.

A spokesperson for the union representing correctional officers in Minnesota acknowledged that assaults on staff by inmates have declined in that state in recent years. But the union believes some prisons do not have enough staff members. In the union's view, this can make those prisons more dangerous because there are not enough officers to properly supervise the inmates.

When an incident does occur, the injuries to officers can be serious. As committed as a correctional department may be to training that will improve workplace safety, there is always an unpredictable element when working with inmates that can put officers at risk of harm.

Correctional officers in Pennsylvania face similar issues. To be sure, Pennsylvania's prison system is much more historic. Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, though now closed, remains one of the most famous prisons in the country, known for its Gothic architecture and role in prison reform in the nineteenth century. But the challenges of those working in Pennsylvania prisons remain very much of the present.

Source: "Stillwater inmate attacks 2 employees," Star Tribune, 1-31-13

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