On July 23, 2009, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division issued its opinion in the case of James Liik, et al v. New Jersey Department of Personnel/New Jersey Department of Corrections, Docket Number A-4121-06T2.
This particular opinion has widespread implications in regard to pay and seniority of thousands of New Jersey corrections officers presently employed with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
By way of background, in 1997, the New Jersey Department of Corrections and New Jersey Department of Personnel created and implemented a pilot program which modified training procedures for corrections officer recruits. Prior to the implementation of the pilot program, candidates for employment with the Department of Corrections were hired as employees and assigned the rank of “correction officer recruit” during their period of training and completion of their working test period. During this time, corrections officer recruits received full salary and benefits available for this particular rank. Once the working test period associated with the position of corrections officer trainee was successfully completed, they were then promoted to the position of senior corrections officer. The pilot program eliminated this practice and those individuals seeking employment with the New Jersey Department of Corrections were designated as “students/trainees.”
As a result of this change, they were no longer considered employees of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, but instead received the lesser rank of corrections officer recruit/trainee during the 14-week training period. During this 14-week training period, instead of receiving the regular salary of a corrections officer recruit, they received a $300 weekly stipend. If a recruit trainee successfully completed the prescribed program of training, they then became “employees” of the New Jersey Department of Corrections and received the salary and benefits of a corrections officer recruit. Despite the fact that the program was to last for only a period of one year, the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Department of Personnel made the program permanent in 1999. A stipend of $300.00 that was to be paid to student trainees never increased over the following years and a significant financial burden and hardship was placed upon those individuals seeking employment with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.