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Suicide in Corrections - Staff Suicide

"We face some of the ugliest statistics of mortality as correctional officers. Perhaps you have seen these, they are fairly commonly cited online in other articles, but just in case you need a reality check here it is:"

"NATIONAL CENSUS OF FATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES IN 2015
A total of 4,836 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2015, a slight increase from the 4,821 fatal injuries reported in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. (See chart 1.) This release marks the first time that the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) has published a single, annual release with no revisions and will be the only release for 2015 CFOI data. A similar schedule will be followed in future years. Preliminary releases, which appeared in August or September in past years, will no longer be produced."

Recognizing that corrections can be a tough profession, the National Institute of Corrections is at the forefront of Health and Wellness for Corrections Professionals. The NIC website has a wealth of resources on the topic including webinars, a virtual conference dedicated to the subject, as well as an Internet Broadcast called Corrections Stress: Peaks and Valleys. The literature on the subject reflects what those who work in the field already know anecdotally, that the job of a correctional officer is particularly stressful. Officers must contend with rotating work schedules, mandatory overtime, and possible assaults by and among offenders. The following articles and discussion provide an overview of what information is available on suicide by correctional officers and—to some extent—police officers, and the impact workplace stress can have on officers. In response to the literature search, officer wellness is discussed, along with some of the interventions recommended to prevent suicides and reduce corrections fatigue.

cover image for bibliography

"We spend a lot of time focusing on the mental health of our inmates, but not enough time focusing on the mental health of the people who are caring for them"

"Health and wellness among those who work in correctional agencies is an issue that has always existed, but is just starting to get the increasing attention that it deserves. One of the greatest threats to correctional officer (CO) wellness involves the stress they encounter as a result of their occupation. This document reviews the body of literature on the causes and effects of stress for COs, and describes the available research on CO wellness programs and their effectiveness. "

"They are sworn to watch over some of the state's most dangerous residents. On any given day they might be spit on, assaulted, threatened, forced to break up violent fights, or asked to try and save the life of a person who has attempted suicide. Yet some employees with the Utah Department of Corrections, the agency responsible for maintaining the Utah State Prison and watching over those paroled from prison, have a salary so low that they qualify for food stamps."

"When Michael Mellen retired at age 45, after 22 years as a Massachusetts correctional officer, he could not leave behind the paranoia that he developed behind the walls."

On June 10, 2015, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) launched a national virtual conference on staff wellness titled “New Directions in Corrections: Staff Wellness.” Session topics will include using neuroscience to reduce stress, “healing corrections,” the organizational implications of boundary violations, creating a purpose-driven corrections career, corrections personnel suicide, and staff wellness.

The objective of “New Directions in Corrections: Staff Wellness” is to: Educate corrections staff on the subject of corrections fatigue and staff wellness; Present strategies and resources for countering the effects of corrections trauma and fatigue; and Equip corrections staff with strategies they can use to move toward professional fulfillment individually and within a workplace culture.

Corrections work often takes a toll on staff’s well-being and functioning due to repeated exposure to multiple types of inherent occupational stressors—specifically, operational, organizational, and traumatic stressors. The cumulative effect of these co-occurring stressors upon corrections professionals and upon entire correctional workplace cultures is captured by the umbrella term and construct of “corrections fatigue.” Effects of corrections fatigue may be low staff morale, impaired job performance, individual health and functioning issues, problematic professional and personal relationships, and high staff turnover. Corrections fatigue includes a variety of facets, many interacting to affect staff negatively and envelop workplace culture in a self-reinforcing cycle that undermines health, functioning, and fulfillment.

This microsite provides access to the eight presentations and links to additional resources.

New Directions in Corrections: Staff Wellness: NIC's Second Virtual Conference cover

"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

"Nationally, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death. While New Jersey has one of the lowest suicide rates in the nation, suicide is also a leading cause of injury death in the state, exceeded only by motor vehicle crashes and drug overdoses. In 2007, New Jersey had more than 600 suicides, and suicides exceeded homicides by a ratio of approximately three to two. For each completed suicide, approximately eight non-fatal attempts result in hospitalization. "

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