Correctional officers play a vital role in the criminal justice system. They handle tasks that require them to be alert, vigilant, and ready to respond to any situation. These demands can take a heavy toll on their mental health, leading to a wide range of personal problems. The problems range from depression to substance dependency and chronic health conditions. While their work is critical, the well-being of correctional officers should not be neglected.
Long, stressful shifts are a regular part of a correctional officer’s work. Such shifts take a physical and emotional toll, leading to a variety of personal problems. Unfortunately, the culture within the correctional system often discourages officers from seeking the help that they need. Given that correctional officers exhibit high levels of post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety, it's essential that they have access to mental health services. Failure to address these issues can have a significant impact on their well-being and their ability to do their job.
Widespread negative perceptions of correctional officers among the public and in the media, along with the forced overtime and staffing shortages brought by the pandemic, add to their already existing strain. Therefore, a supportive work environment and access to mental health services are crucial to maintaining their well-being. Fortunately, some correctional facilities have started addressing mental health issues among their employees. Some have established mental health programs such as peer support groups, counseling, and training to help their staff cope with the difficulties of their work.
The researchers have learned that, not only are these issues pervasive, but that the official suicide numbers among correctional officers were likely underreported. While official reports only included deaths of active and retired correctional officers that were ruled as suicides, Monteiro explains. That number did not include counts of officers in county-level facilities. Their interviews also turned up details of other former officers who had died by suicide and those whose overdoses, which had been classified as accidents.
Correctional officers should be encouraged to seek the necessary help if they experience any problems relating to their mental health. Furthermore, a supportive work environment for correctional officers should be prioritized. This means establishing an environment where there is open communication, easy access to mental health programs, and support from their colleagues.
Depression and PTSD
A 2012 national study of nearly 4,000 correctional officers and staff conducted by Caterina Spinaris, Ph.D. with Desert Waters Outreach in Colorado found that depression and PTSD are prevalent among corrections personnel. The study found a 27% PTSD rate among all correctional staff and a depression rate of 26%. Among security personnel, the rate is even higher, with a 34% PTSD rate and a 31% depression rate.
Furthermore, the study found that individuals diagnosed with PTSD had a 65% chance of comorbidity with depression, while those diagnosed with depression had a 67% chance of comorbidity with PTSD. This indicates that depression and PTSD are closely linked in the group of correctional officers, with many individuals experiencing both conditions at the same time.
These results demonstrate that mental health issues are a serious concern for corrections professionals and need to be addressed accordingly. Mental health services should be provided as part of a comprehensive wellness program for all corrections personnel. Not only could this help reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for personnel, but it may also help to improve safety and efficiency in the workplace.
Suicide in Corrections Officers
A national study revealed that corrections officers have a suicide rate 39 percent higher than the rest of the working-age population. This alarming statistic is unfortunately not uncommon, as corrections officers are some of the most undervalued and overworked employees in our criminal justice system. Working conditions in jails and prisons are often undesirable, leading to stress and burnout for corrections officers. Moreover, the job can be incredibly emotionally taxing, as many of the individuals they are tasked with supervising have a long history of mental health issues and criminal behavior. This unique combination of high stress and emotionally difficult work can leave corrections officers feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
Corrections officers need support from their employers during such difficult times. Offering mental health resources, increased breaks, and better working conditions can all be beneficial in reducing the risk of suicide among corrections officers. Additionally, efforts to destigmatize mental illness and encourage open conversations about the struggles associated with this job are essential to creating a culture of safety and wellness for these workers.
It is critical that we take this issue seriously and make an effort to ensure corrections officers are receiving the support they need. By creating a culture of openness and providing resources and assistance, we can help reduce the risk of suicide among these hardworking individuals.
Correctional officers have a challenging job, and their well-being should not be overlooked. A correctional officer's emotional and mental health can have a significant impact on their professional and personal lives. They require a supportive work environment, access to mental health services, and support from their colleagues and managers. Through improved measures, we can help correctional officers to get the help they need to maintain their well-being and continue performing their crucial roles. The provision of robust mental health services and peer support can lead to a more positive and productive work environment for correctional officers.