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Corrections Stress - 1. General

Provides a list of rights for trauma survivors around personal boundaries, personal communication and personal dependency in therapy.

A publication of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach.

Staff is the life blood of any agency and its most valuable resource. Their wellness is paramount to organizational health and mission effectiveness. What can individuals and organizations do to identify issues commonly associated with corrections stress and cultivate a climate of staff resilience and agency health, stability and excellence?

During this broadcast, we will: Acknowledge the effects and consequences of corrections stress on staff and the organization; Identify commonly referenced terminology that informs the discussion of corrections stress; Explore the context and continuum of stress within the corrections profession; Discuss research and knowledge focusing on corrections stress that effects the individual and organizational culture; Present proactive strategies to identify and address cumulative effects and consequences of corrections stress; Describe individual and organizational strategies to build and maintain a healthy workforce; Discuss proactive tools and resources for both individuals and organizations; [and] Provide individual and organizational resources to promote and support a healthy workforce.

This broadcast will answer the following questions: Why is corrections stress an issue we need to address? What are characteristics of corrections stress? What does it look and sound like? What are distinguishing features of corrections stress within institutional and community settings? How do you build awareness of this issue for yourself and your organization? How do you address the problems and effects associated with corrections stress? What are strategies to deal with stressors? How can leadership introduce this issue within the agency? Who needs to be at the table to discuss it? What resources are available to you and your organization to address this issue? Are you taking advantage of them? What are tools and strategies for engaging and connecting directly with your community stakeholders? What positive steps can you take to make a difference personally and within your organization regarding corrections stress?"

Corrections Stress Cover

This three part series addresses the issue of corrections fatigue and how corrections staff can deal with it by developing "hazmat suits for their souls". A hazmat suit for the soul allows you to respond to the "hazardous materials" of daily stress and dangerous incidents during work and to "decontaminate" emotionally afterwards. Part One explains "complex trauma", how it can result in psychological symptoms, diagnostic psychiatric disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), adverse workplace performance, costs, and neurobiological changes. Part Two compares "negative resilience" and true resilience. It explains the need for corrections staff to seek "solid and enduring resilience is of primary importance, as literally lives may depend on it". Part Three explains how corrections staff can develop effective hazmat suits for the soul using prevention or intervention approaches. This part also describes four "categories of behavior (aka factors)" that can increase resilience in corrections staff. The factors are supportive staff relationship effects; self-care health maintenance efforts; confident/perseverant frame of mind; and controlled/logical problem-solving. NOTE: This set of articles was previously published in 2011, and have been updated and reprinted.

Hazmat Suit for the Soul, Parts 1-3 cover

"Staff members are a central aspect of a correctional facility, influencing its safety and security. But with the job comes enormous stress. High levels of stress, in turn, may increase rates of burnout, turnover, absenteeism, and even suicide, particularly during times of increasing costs and decreasing budgets. Bonnie-Jean Thurston-Snoha, Ph.D., of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Bruceton Mills, WV, and Louis Ernesto Mora, Ph.D., of Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in West Brentwood, NY, argue that employee stress affects not only the individual but also the functioning and security of correctional facilities. The potential negative impact of stress on both employees and facilities underlies the need to understand its origins and implement programs designed to augment correctional workers’ health. The researchers recently summarized factors that influence stress, connections between stress and suicide, staff support programs, and how research may be used to prevent suicide among corrections workers."

In recent years there has been a notable increase in research on the ways that correctional occupational stressors can erode the health of correctional employees (Ferdik & Smith, 2017). This increase parallels correctional administrators’ and other stakeholders’ heightened concerns regarding relationships between occupational stressors and employees’ health, performance, and work engagement. These concerns were articulated in a 2017 resolution of the American Correctional Association called the ACA Resolution Supporting Correctional Employee Wellness 2017-1. This resolution states that the adverse impact of the job on correctional employees’ wellness is a critical issue that has reached crisis proportions because the occupational risks inherent to the profession increase the health risks for correctional employees. The resolution also posits that the nature of the correctional environment can be a causative factor in the development of high-risk behaviors, such as alcohol abuse. The resolution further adds that traumatic events in the correctional workplace may result in employees succumbing to health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"The primary goal of corrections work is the safe and secure management and rehabilitation of justice-involved individuals, whether in locked facilities or within community supervision programs. Pursuit of this goal comes with demanding requirements such as the necessity of staff to maintain constant heightened vigilance while they work and also adhere to strict security protocols. In addition, corrections staff must perform their duties within harsh physical environments and with repeated exposure to violence, injury, and death events. Data supports a health and functioning toll of corrections work that must be not only endured but overcome if corrections staff are to perform optimally over time and if staff are to develop a sense of job-related success, pride, meaning, and professional fulfillment. Meeting and overcoming the occupation-specific challenges of corrections work will, by necessity, require an accurate and specific understanding of the converging forces impinging on staff’s health and functioning, how these manifest, and how they can be deterred. This paper presents an evidence-supported model and framework for the comprehensive understanding of occupational threats to corrections workplace health and functioning as well as a data-driven and evidence-based strategy for addressing them" (p. 1). Sections of this paper include: types of stressors in corrections environments; direct and indirect traumatic exposure; use of varying terminology in the literature regarding traumatic exposure; types of corrections fatigue components; interacting components; a six-stage model for addressing corrections fatigue; and summary.

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"Corrections work of all disciplines, whether in institutional or in community-based settings, has been recognized as being exceptionally stressful. Traditionally, this has been regarded as a consequence of staff’s exposure to multiple organizational stressors and also operational stressors. Examples of organizational stressors are role problems, demanding interactions with other staff or justice-involved individuals, and low organizational support. Examples of operational stressors are shift work, high workloads, and mandatory overtime. The effects of these types of stressors have also been thought to result in “burnout.” "Recently, a more insidious source of occupational stress has been recognized in the corrections profession—that of exposure to potentially traumatic events and material. Such exposure can be direct (first hand), such as while responding in person to incidents of violence, injury or death, or being assaulted on the job. Traumatic exposure can also be indirect (second hand), such as while hearing about or viewing videos of critical incidents or reading presentencing investigation reports. "This annotated bibliography was developed in an effort to provide current and useful information to corrections professionals regarding possible effects of traumatic and other high-stress exposure on staff health and wellness. In addition to literature on traumatic stress in corrections, research on organizational stress, operational stress and burnout in corrections is included. The reason for this is that exposure to traumatic stress frequently co-occurs with operational and organizational stressors, and contributes to the overall outcome of traumatization and burnout. Non-corrections literature is referenced on the subject of psychological trauma and resilience in the general population and in other high-risk occupations to provide a context for and meaningful comparisons with the corrections-related findings" (p. x). Seventy-seven (77) citations are organized into the following sections: Occupational Traumatic Exposure of Corrections Professionals; Depression in Corrections Professionals; Corrections Officer Suicide; Health Issues of Corrections Professionals; Operational Stress, Organizational Stress, and Burnout in Corrections Professionals; Traumatic Stress and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder; Traumatic Stress and PTSD in High-trauma Occupations; Secondary Traumatic Stress/Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma; Burnout; and Resilience.

Occupational Stressors in Corrections Work Annotated Bibliography Cover

This two page handout provides statistics on corrections officer wellness and suggestions on what policymakers can do to address it.

Newsweek, May 2014.

Report on "the mental health of corrections officers, who, according to one study, have rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comparable to military combat veterans."


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