Governor signs Nealey bill requiring compensation from inmates who assault correctional officers

A bill that will require inmates who assault correctional officers or other Department of Corrections (DOC) employees to pay monetary damages to those employees was signed into law today by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

House Bill 1334 was introduced by 16th District Rep. Terry Nealey, whose legislative district includes Walla Walla where the Washington State Penitentiary is located. The measure will allow a state or federal court to issue a civil judgment of monetary damages of 15 percent or 20 percent of the inmate’s wages, depending upon his or her level of employment. The money would be deducted directly from an inmate’s earnings and paid to the DOC assault victim.

Nealey said in other states that have applied the law, monetary damage awards have proven to be a much more effective deterrent against assaults than longer sentences.

“Inmates are compensated for working within the prison walls, but they don’t make very much money. There are several consequences prisoners could face if they try to harm an officer, including longer sentences. But for those inmates who are already serving exceptionally long or life sentences, a few more years in prison is meaningless to them. However, they will pay attention if they know they’ll get hit where it hurts — in the pocketbook,” said Nealey, R-Dayton.

“This measure has been very effective in other states because it takes away privileges of what their small amount of money can buy,” noted Nealey. “Walla Walla correctional officers suggested the bill to me because they believe this method would help deter assaults and provide another important tool for their safety.”

Nealey says portions of an inmate’s income may already be subject to deductions that must be paid first.

“A judgment award would fall in line behind payment for restitution, child support and cost of incarceration. If an inmate is already paying out on those obligations, it is my hope they will think twice before initiating an assault on a corrections officer that could possibly cost them the remainder of their earned pay,” added Nealey.

The measure gained unanimous final passage in both the House and Senate. It becomes effective July 22.

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Washington State House Republican Communications