Investigation: Felons get taxpayer-funded workers' compensation

Investigation: Felons get taxpayer-funded workers' compensation »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — If California citizens get hurt on the job, they're eligible to collect workers' compensation. But, in an exclusive investigation, Eyewitness News discovered that prison inmates who are hurt while working in prisons can also collect on the benefit when they're set free.

According to the State Compensation Insurance Fund, the state's largest provider of workers' compensation, California inmates have been eligible for workers' compensation since 1976. For more than three decades, depending on an inmate's hourly pay scale, taxpayers have handed out millions of dollars to injured inmates.

In the 2010-11 fiscal year alone, the state paid out $7.4 million in workers' compensation benefits to inmates. The minimum temporary disability payment is nearly $600 a month. That payment can continue for up two years. And, if an inmate is deemed more than 70 percent disabled, a payout could last a lifetime.

On top of paying the benefits to inmates, the state also pays nine full-time employees roughly $500,000 in salaries each year to work specifically on inmate workers' compensation claims.

Eyewitness News took an in-depth look at the surprising system, even interviewing a convicted murderer who qualified for workers' compensation after a box of metal plates fell on his foot inside a prison furniture factory.