As reported by nj.com, New Jersey will soon begin shelling out millions of dollars in back pay to thousands of current and former corrections officers who participated in a training program that was approved for only a year but lasted a decade. The settlement, reached in May after years of litigation, is expected to benefit about 3,900 officers, each of whom will receive nearly $1,200.00. In total, the agreement will cost the State about $6 million.
The settlement ends a dispute over a program the State began in January 1998, when it changed the way in which newly hired corrections officers were trained. Before then, officers received an on-the-job education while working in a correctional facility and earning a regular salary. But, under the pilot program, new employees, who held the title “student/trainee,” spent 12 weeks at the State Police Academy in Sea Girt and the final two weeks at a correctional facility. The trainees earned a stipend of no more than $300 a week.
The program was approved by the State for a year and could have been made permanent through the State’s rule-making process. But that did not happen.
The Department of Corrections had the title student/trainee certified in 2009 after a lawsuit was filed challenging the legitimacy of the pay rate. The program has since been changed, said Matthew Schuman, a spokesman for the Department. New corrections officers are now called “apprentices” while attending the training academy, Schuman said, and are paid $650 a week. Once the new employees graduate, he said, they become “correction officer recruits” and earn about $770 a week.
The settlement between the State and the former recruits will not cover the difference between the $300 stipends and an actual starting salary, a payout that would cost the State tens of millions of dollars.
Lance Lopez, Sr., the president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105, which represents corrections officers in New Jersey, said that his members were not pleased with the settlement, but it was time to worry about other things. “I think everybody agrees that they should probably be receiving more than what the settlement was, just because it was the right thing to do, Lopez said. “I guess, at this point, we’re just going to move forward and deal with the situation we have.”