A review of the literature and interviews with more than 50 knowledgeable individuals make clear that job-related stress is widespread-and possibly increasing-among correctional officers. Many supervisors (lieutenants and captains) also experience considerable job-related stress.
A few facts illustrate the stressful nature of correctional work:
Sources of Correctional Officer Stress:
WHICH OFFICERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE STRESS?
According to one researcher, "At this point, there seems to be no clear consensus as to which factors can be consistently correlated with stress in corrections:' Some studies have found that officers working higher security level institutions or units experience more stress than officers working medium or minimum security areas, while other studies have found no differences in stress levels among security levels.' Staffing an administrative segregation unit can, aradoxically, feel less stressful than working on other units (because inmates are locked down almost the entire day) or more stressful (because every Inmate is a potential time bomb). The evidence regarding stress levels associated with working in direct supervision facilities is similarly inconsistent.
The apparent stresses of a specific post or assignment may be offset by its perceived benefits. For example, tower duty may be boring but valued because it involves little or no inmate contact All 13 officers posted to the North Infirmary Command on Rikers Island and Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City for inmates with AIDS saw the assignment as a good one because it was not a prison setting, there were no captains or deputy wardens supervising them on the wards, the inmates were usually more manageable than the general population, the pay was good, and no one else wanted the position-the officers did not have to play politics to get or keep It!
Still other conditions can influence stress levels. Officers who work in rural settings may be related to or personally know other staff-or inmates-which can lead to concerns about privacy. Inmates in jails may present different problems for correctional officers than prison inmates because so many jail detainees have just come into the facility right off the streets. In addition, rapid turnover in jails creates its own set of stresses: While correctional officers must not only establish their authority and make clear the ground rules to a constantly changing population, they are at the same time frequently deprived of the satisfaction of seeing inmates improve their lot through the educational, religious, vocational, and other programs prisons can offer their longer term inmates.
Studies that have attempted to determine whether officers' stress levels are associated with length of time on the job, educational level, race, and gender have produced inconsistent findings.
Stress Can Create
Several Significant Problems for Officers.
can result in at least four serious problems for officers:
Expand a Stress Program for Correctional Officers?
Keys to Program
Developing and maintaining a successful stress program is not easy. Correctional and sheriff's departments need to address several considerations to make their programs effective.
What Does a Stress Program Cost?
Program costs vary tremendously depending primarily on how much programs rely on volunteers and existing staff and the services the programs provide. The Post Incident Stress Debriefing Program developed by the New York State Department of Correctional Services costs almost nothing because it relies entirely on officers who have received training as debriefers at their own expense or through department training funded by Federal Government grants. Other programs have annual budgets ranging from $27,500 to $87,289. Departments should recoup their expenses manyfold by reducing excessive sick time and officer turnover. A few departments have data suggesting their programs may have saved them money.
ADDRESSING STAFF BURNOUT
Because of the intense involvement in other people's problems required of therapists, the counseling profession in general can easily lead to burnout. Peer supporters can also be subject to burnout. Clinicians and peer supporters in correctional officer stress programs may be especially vulnerable to burnout because much of the counseling they do and support they provide revolve around issues of injury and death and because counselors and supporters may periodically have to work long hours, including nights and weekends.
According to James
Hollencamp, the Massachusetts Stress Unit's coordinator, "Our biggest
problem is dealing with burnout of our own staff because they won't take
time off because they feel needed by their clients. The peers are entitled
to 4 weeks' vacation a year, but few ever take all the available time."
There are several steps peer supporters and clinicians can take to prevent burnout:
POST TRAUMA RESOURCES
MENU OF RESPONSES TO A CRITICAL INCIDENT
Post Trauma Resources
(PTR) chooses from among a variety of interventions in helping officers
and departments respond effectively to critical incidents.
Below is a partial list of the organization's menu of available responses.
Telephone hotline, providing 24-hour crisis counseling to all employees between the time the institution first notifies, PTR of the incident and when the first onsite services are provided.
THE IRON IS HOT
The best time to institute organizational change is after a critical incident (eg., riot, hostage taking, officer suicide) when administrators and local government leaders will want to be seen as individuals who care about the wellbeing of correctional staff and may therefore support steps to prevent a recurrence of the incident.
After inmates killed an officer at a California Youth Authority facility, staff blamed management for the murder because they felt the killing would not have occurred if there had been adequate staff on duty. After 2 weeks of debriefings, Nancy Bohl-Penrod-Penrod-Penrod suggested to upper management that the department should get staff involved in the institution's policymaking process to reduce the officers' anger. As a result, the facility broke the staff into several groups, assigning each group to examine one department policy and recommend how it could be improved. The Youth Authority then implemented the feasible suggestions. According to Cathy Carlson, the facility's Safety Office return-to-work coordinator.
It was a terrific idea. For example, the facility used to have inmates go to the Youth Authority hospital and crowd into the waiting room, tying up officers who had to transport the inmates and leaving their facilities short staffed. One staff group said, why not have a nurse go to the facilities and have onsite sick call? We implemented the change.
Bohl-Penrod-Penrod-Penrod also recommended
that the superintendent and assistant superintendent make themselves visible
-"talk to the staff, go to the control, centers, let them know you're
here just as they are." They did. Later, Carlson and the assistant
superintendent brought food they baked to the institution on Thanksgiving
and Christmas. "We piggybacked this idea off Nancy's idea to be visible:'
Carlson said. "Staff have said to me, 'My gosh, the super was in
the control center at 6:00 am. this morning and actually chatted with
DO MIDLEVEL CORRECTIONAL
MANAGERS EXPERIENCE STRESS?
Midlevel managers (lieutenants and captains) interviewed report they experience several types of stress:
A lieutenant with a State department of corrections reported that the stress is worst for middle management: You decide on staff deployment and everyone looks to you for guidance. You make the critical decisions; as watch commander, you run the prison. On two shifts out of three, I'm the highest ranking person in the facility because the higher-ups leave at 4:00 p.m. It's a tremendous responsibility. The decisions are tough. Also, someone is Monday morning quarterbacking you, your decisions are scrutinized, and they're life-and-death decisions.
Top correctional administrators also experience stress. Wardens, deputy wardens, and jail administrators may be saddled with a "24/7" commitment-carrying a beeper around the clock. They have to deal with typically adversarial labor relations with the officers' union, staff hostility or mistrust, pressures from central administration, political scapegoating, and media exposure. Furthermore, top-level administrators are typically reluctant to share their feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, or inadequacy with anyone for fear of appearing weak, incompetent, or indecisive.