Your Legal Rights at Work

Are You Eligible For Workers' Compensation If You're Injured While Incarcerated?

by Lewis Hamilton

Jail and prisons sometimes provide inmates with opportunities to make money by performing work at the facilities or in the community as part of work-release programs. If you are injured while working for the private or state facility, are you eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits? It depends on the circumstances of the injury, the state where you live, and the terms of employment.

Not All Injuries Are Covered

For the most part, inmates generally enjoy the same benefits as other employees who are injured on the job. They can receive benefits for injuries that they suffered while performing work for the jail or prison whether or not they are at fault for the accident. However, there are a few instances in which they cannot recover compensation:

  • The person intentionally injured him or herself
  • The person was hurt as the result of an assault the individual initiated
  • The injury was the result of horseplay (this only holds true if the employer prohibited horseplay and actively discouraged behavior in this area; otherwise, the person may still be able to get money for the injury)

Terms Of Employment

Only people who are recognized as being employed by the jail or prison are eligible for workers' compensation benefits. This generally means the facility must pay you a wage and direct your activities. Volunteers are not covered by workers' compensation.

Employers are also not required to cover independent contractors. This only comes into play, however, if you are actually doing work for a third party. For instance, if the prison or jail contracts its laundry service to another company but that company hires inmates to perform the work, then the jail facility would not be liable for paying workers' comp benefits to you, since technically you are an independent contractor. That responsibility would actually fall on the third-party company who hired you.

Workers' compensation in your state may have additional requirements for coverage. For instance, one prisoner was denied coverage because the county he worked for didn't have a contract that allowed the government to hire the person. It's best to research the requirements in your area to ensure that your circumstances are covered.

State Prohibitions

While the majority of states allow prisoners to file workers' compensation claims, many of them prohibit incarcerated persons from collecting the benefits while they are in jail. In many cases, you'll have to wait until you are released before you can collect any money that you're owed. For instance, the Bureau of Workers' Compensation in Ohio won't even attempt to settle a claim if the person is incarcerated.

Making a jail or prison facility pay you for your injury if you're hurt while working there can be challenging. It's best to have your case handled by a workers' compensation attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and to negotiate a fair payment for your injuries. For more information, check out the website at