HARRISBURG – Legislation sponsored by Sen. David Argall (R-29) to ensure that Pennsylvania corrections officers maintain their constitutional rights during disciplinary proceedings was the topic of a Senate Labor and Industry Committee hearing Tuesday.
Argall said that Senate Bill 476, the Corrections Officers Bill of Rights, was introduced after corrections officers were suspended without pay and benefits for almost a year without the ability to ask questions related to why they were suspended or to defend themselves. These officers were never even given the benefit of a hearing.
The hearing heard testimony from the State Corrections Officers' Association.
"Prison inmates have fundamental rights and a myriad of safeguards to protect and exercise those rights. If we recognize that convicted criminals retain certain rights when they enter prison to serve their punishment, surely we can insist on the same for corrections officers when they enter prison to serve the public," Argall said.
Argall asked how many states have a similar provision in place. Gary Lightman with the association stated that 17 states have specifically addressed the issue, including Hawaii and Texas.
The legislation provides safeguards for when a correctional officer is under investigation and subject to interrogation by the state Corrections Department. Among other provisions, it also states that if an anonymous or unsworn complaint is made against a correctional officer and no corroborative evidence is obtained within the applicable statute of limitations for the criminal offense, the complaint shall be classified as unfounded.
"With two state corrections facilities located in the Senate district which I represent, I strongly believe any corrections officer found guilty of a crime should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Argall said. "However, this legislation will guarantee the constitutional rights for our corrections officers."