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Corrections stress

"Seven staff fatalities including three suicides in just three years (2010-2012). For professionals who operate correction facilities, stress can be a significant issue with fatal consequences. The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office (MSO) had 45 staff fatalities over the past 30 years. Twenty-four percent of these deaths were suicide. MSO believes the other deaths are tied to stress and wellness related health issues such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. MSO Sheriff Peter Koutoujian assumed the leadership role at this time and focused on improving correctional officer (CO) wellness and safety … MSO approached the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center for assistance understanding the contributors to CO work-related stressors. MSO’s goal was to identify and alleviate the causes of workplace stress to improve CO wellness and safety and reduce CO suicide through implementation of evidence-based programs and promising practices" (p. 1). This document describes the Center's analysis and recommendations. Sections of this case study include: overview; data-driven programs and practices recommended to address the issue; the Diagnostic Center; the diagnostic process; six factors contributing to the issue; descriptions and details of the recommended evidence-based programs and practices; Diagnostic Center's recommendations; impact and outcome; community's response; and insight gained.

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This is an excellent introduction to compassion fatigue (CF) (aka corrections fatigue) experienced by correctional health care staff. "While there is some literature on CF and burnout among correctional officers, there is scant information on how these phenomena affect correctional health care staff. This article discusses ways that CF may adversely impact the well-being of qualified mental health professionals who work in jail and prison settings. When left untreated, CF may result in serious and detrimental personal costs to the individual and organization. These costs can be mitigated by positive self-care, which also will be addressed in this article" (p. 10). Sections of this article cover: what compassion fatigue is; the role of trauma; why we neglect ourselves; the importance of prevention; compassion satisfaction—the flip side of CF; calendar it—planning ahead for self-care; organizational considerations; and taking care of yourself.

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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.

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"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.

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This is an excellent primer on how correctional officers are deeply impacted by working on death row. It is essential reading for corrections professionals, policymakers, and the public. Sections of this paper include: introduction; guards on death row; interactions with prisoners; guards at executions; and conclusion. "Like murder, execution inflicts emotional and psychological damage on those linked to it. This can begin with anticipatory trauma when a court sets an execution date and the impact can remain even years after an execution. Prison guards, who most closely interact with condemned prisoners on a daily basis, are particularly affected, including and especially those acting as executioners. The death penalty compounds the anxiety and depression to which prison guards are already especially vulnerable (over a quarter of all US prison employees suffer from depression36 – three times the level in the general US population). Given such negative aspects to the work, executing nations use enticements and punishments to keep guards in execution service … Alternatively, they may try to dissuade guards from quitting by using ridicule, bullying or demotion: one guard was given "weird duty, weird hours" after asking to be removed from the execution team, while others reported being threatened with lower paying, lower status jobs. The exposure of guards to executions and anticipated executions should therefore be a matter of serious concern to prison administrations, which have a responsibility towards the wellbeing of their staff. The unacknowledged stress experienced by guards on death rows and execution teams risks dangerous mental health consequences for them and those around them. The simplest (and best) solution would be to remove the cause of the problem and abolish the death penalty" (p. 3).

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Presentations: “Mental Health Inmate Management—Texas Initiative” (1) “Jails and the Sandra Bland Act” by Dennis D. Wilson and (2) “How to Be a Force Multiplier” by Kelly Howell; “Heroin Epidemic—M.A.T. Model in Franklin County, Ohio” by Geoff Stobart; “Addressing Staff Wellness” by Elias Diggins, Jacob Matthews, and Sonya Gillespie-Carter; “Immigration Screening” by Clint Haggard; “Legal Updates” by Carrie L. Hill. Open forum (short discussions): Inmate Art Programs, Cell Improvements to Reduce In-Custody Suicide, Preparations for Civil Disturbances, Medical Care Vendor RFPs and Selection, Recruitment and Overtime, Restrictive Housing and Tier Time, Inmates and Yoga, Housing to Manage Gang Members, Mental Health Care for Veterans, Alternative Shifts, Canine Detection of Contraband, Background Checks for Medical Providers, COs Equipped with NARCAN, Use of Long-Range Acoustic Devices. There were updates from the NSA, NCCHC, AJA, ACA, NIC, and LJN. Included with the proceedings are the final meeting agenda, participant list, and index of meeting topics.

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Do you want to see what some of the latest data and promising practices are revealing about staff wellness for corrections officers and staff?  Would you like to learn how to apply a holistic approach to your workplace along the continuum of preventive to reactive responses?  Correctional staff face significant stress and challenges in maintaining wellness and resiliency in the workplace.  There is emerging evidence that effective strategies and programs exist; however, they often occur in a piecemeal or sporadic fashion.  This webinar provides academic insight into the current research on officer wellness and references emerging areas of innovative practices.  It includes practitioner expertise on valuable resources and support for correctional officers and staff.  The webinar moves from preventive to reactive strategies and builds on new approaches to increase resiliency.  Participants will learn what research and practice tell us about the short and long-term effects that working in corrections can have and how to promote staff wellness and manage trauma in response to what they experience.

Learning Objectives: 

During this one-hour interactive webinar, participants will

  1. Develop an understanding of the current research on correctional staff wellness and resiliency,
  2. Learn how to apply a holistic approach to their workplace, and
  3. Gain knowledge on promising real-world practices that can assist and promote both wellness and resiliency.

Speakers

Dr. Hayden Smith is an Associate Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina.  His principal focus of study is the intersection of the criminal justice and public health systems.  Core areas include self-injurious and suicidal behaviors in incarcerated populations, physical and mental health needs in correctional settings, jail diversion, reentry initiatives, and correctional staff well-being and safety.  Dr. Smith has expertise in program evaluation and policy analysis and has worked with numerous correctional and health systems.

Ms. Karin Ho is the Director for Victim Services with the South Carolina Department of Corrections.  She has more than 30 years of victim advocacy experience and over 25 years in corrections.  Recognizing how correctional staff were affected by traumatic events, she implemented the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Peer Team and Post Critical Incident Seminars for employees with ongoing trauma-related issues.  As part of the CISM Team, Karin is the handler for a specially trained trauma dog who responds to correctional staff throughout the state.

The presenters have engaged in several academic-practitioner partnerships that address correctional officer and staff well-being.

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Promoting Wellness and Resiliency in Correctional Staff

All correctional staff and administrators should read this article. It describes strategies for dealing with correctional officer stress. This article covers: caring for oneself; personal wellness program; physical fitness; diet; mental wellness; rest and renewal; four dimensions of renewal proposed by Dr. Steven Covey; Sabbath—a day of rest; and a call to action. "As correctional officers learn to care for themselves, they also learn to care better for those housed in their facilities. It is not an easy task, but the rewards are numerous. Well-rested and healthy correctional officers are more likely to return safely to their families and maintain the safety of their facilities. Ultimately, the results help ensure that facilities can fulfill their mission" (p. 13).

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This program is the first of a two-part webinar, and covers the physical and emotional challenges faced by correctional personnel. “The dangers correctional staff encounter on the job are well known to their leaders. A lesser known but possibly more hazardous set of factors involves the cumulative negative side effects of what staff experience through daily interactions with justice-involved individuals and immersion in uniquely challenging workplace conditions. Such side effects can be understood as examples of “Corrections Fatigue.” The webinar will describe a process model developed and modified over several years by DWCO [Desert Waters Correctional Outreach], entitled “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment™.” Once Corrections Fatigue manifests, it can promote toxic adaptations to work demands, consequently undermining job performance, employee morale, health, personal and professional relationships, and employee retention.” Objectives of this webinar are: describe types of occupational stress that may negatively impact the well-being of corrections staff; present the “umbrella” term of Corrections Fatigue, its nature, properties and consequences; and present research evidence that supports a model of Corrections Fatigue and its usefulness in providing interventions regarding increasing staff well-being. This download includes copies of the video, transcript, and presentation slides.

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