Correctional Officer Wellness and Safety Literature Review

Source: Jaime Brower, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, July 2013

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. Research demonstrates that there are four different categories of stressors for COs:
• Inmate-related: threat of violence/injury, inmate mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, etc.
• Occupational (inherent to the profession): closed work environment, hyper-vigilance, etc.
• Organizational/administrative: mismanagement, poor leadership, inadequate resources/ pay, understaffing, etc.
• Psycho-social: fear, work/family conflict, media scrutiny, etc.

The categories of stressors pose a serious threat to the mental and physical health of COs. If not properly managed, stress increases the risk for COs to suffer from heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and a host of other physical ailments. Stress also weighs heavily on COs’ mental health and can lead to serious psychological distress, emotional disorders, and an elevated risk of suicide. The effects of stress also extend to the correctional agency through reduce work performance, absenteeism, employee turnover and replacement costs for new employees. More research is needed to examine stressors and their effects that are unique to the correctional field….