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Prisons: Correctional Officers - Correctional Officer Stress

training management average inmates

A number of studies have documented that C.O.s experience higher levels of stress than most other occupational groups (Laskey, Gordon, and Strebalus; Lindquist and Whitehead; Honnold and Stinchcomb; and Wright). There are numerous stressors in the C.O.s' work environment. They live by a macho code that requires them to be rugged individualists who can be counted upon to do their duty regardless of circumstances. Both management and C.O.s expect that every officer will perform the functions of their assignment independently, and seek assistance only when it is absolutely necessary, as in the case of physical assault, escape, or riot. This macho code combined with the unpredictability of working with inmates, role ambiguity, and demographic changes in the work force create high C.O. stress levels.

In addition, C.O.s frequently complain of structural stressors associated with the traditional autocratic style of correctional management: feelings of being trapped in the job; low salaries; inadequate training; absence of standardized policies, procedures, and rules; lack of communication with managers; and little participation in decision-making (Philliber). The failure of managers to support line staff has been emphasized by Lombardo and Brodsky. There are also gender differences in stress perception. Zimmer and Jurik have found that female C.O.s report higher levels of stress than male C.O.s because of employee sexual harassment, limited supervisory support, and a lack of programs designed to integrate them into the male prison.

The consequences of stress include: powerful feelings of alienation, powerlessness, estrangement, and helplessness; physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and ulcers (Cornelius); twice the national divorce rate average; and high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and heart attacks. Cheek reports that C.O.s have an average life span of fifty-nine years compared to a national average of seventy-five years. The organizational consequences of stress include high employee turnover, reduced job productivity, high rates of absenteeism and sick leave use, and inflated health-care costs and disability payments (Patterson). Some C.O.s also respond to stress by engaging in corruption or inmate brutality.

Correctional managers have responded to these consequences by seeking to recruit and retain individuals who have the psychological resources to handle the stress of institutional life. Application selection methods rely on psychological testing, background checks, and rigorous interviews. Those applicants who are hired are required to complete a probationary period that is, on average, ten months in length and includes 232 hours of entry-level training (Camp and Camp, p. 146) before they can be assigned a permanent job within the correctional facility. This probationary period begins with standardized training in a correctional training academy whose instructors are qualified to provide oral instruction, written examination, and practical hands-on application of techniques. Training curriculums are designed to provide trainees with the knowledge necessary to become a human services–oriented professional who can assist inmates as they meet the challenges of incarceration and preparation for return to the community. The typical corrections curriculum includes instruction in such diverse areas as: the professional image; interpersonal communications; assertive techniques; development of observation skills; prison subcultures; classification of inmates; legal aspects of corrections; inmate disciplinary procedures; fire prevention; security awareness; stress awareness and management; control of aggressive inmate behavior; cultural sensitivity; emergency preparedness; HIV; report writing; suicidal inmates; mentally disturbed inmates and special behavior problems; principles of control; basic defensive tactics; standard first aid; use of the baton; firearms training; drug awareness; search procedures; use of inmate restraints; transportation of inmate procedures; and weapon cleaning and maintenance. Increasingly, academy curriculums include ethical behavior, cultural sensitivity, and awareness of diversity courses designed to help C.O.s adjust to a work environment that has become increasingly multicultured. State correctional systems now require C.O.s to annually participate in, on average, forty-two hours of in-service training designed to help them maintain high levels of professional efficiency and ethical behavior (Camp and Camp, p. 147).

In addition, correctional managers are increasingly adapting a participatory management style that emphasizes employee empowerment through shared decision-making and input solicitation, unit management, and formal mentoring programs (Cushman and Sechrest; Freeman). This management style is associated with higher levels of employee morale and job satisfaction than is the traditional autocratic management style (Duffee, 1989). As management and training philosophies become more sophisticated C.O.s will be better prepared to manage the stresses inherent in their critical role as human service professionals in an increasingly complex work environment.

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over 3 years ago

My very good friend was a CO in Enfield, CT. He had his 20 yrs in and was getting ready to retire this year. He died this past October of an apparent heart attack. Scott was a wonderful person who worked very hard and earned the respect and admiration of his peers and inmates alike. He was a peace keeper and took pride in his job but it is my feeling that this occupation ate him up. Scott was looking forward to his retirement but at 49 years old, had it all taken away from him all too soon. My message for all the young CO's starting out is please take care of yourselves! Use the EAP and address your stress before it gets out of hand. Take time Off ! Go on vacations and ENJOY your life ! Defy the statistics ! God bless you all.

~ Cindy

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over 5 years ago

I have been working as a C.O for approx. 21 yrs. I've been a supervisor for 8 of those 21yrs. I don't believe there is one human C.O that can leave there problems/stresses at work and not bring them home to their family. If you can your are the first robot working in corrections. We are humans. We have emotions. Jeremy, staff would like to follow the saying"Don't get your honey,where you get your money", but this is damn near impossible.

Guys and girls stay safe and watch each others back.You only have each other.

I like the article.

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about 6 years ago

Hi, my name is xia van. my husband is starting this fielding and has already started to applied for jobs... i am really afraid of all the information you have just given me. what can i do to help my husband in his field and what can we do to help our marriage not to go that same route.

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almost 4 years ago

I have been in Corrections for 4 years now and it is exactly how it is said in this study, plus the political factor and it drives people nuts, i see it everyday, some CO's can seperate their work in home life but its a very small amount, and those people are usually the ones who don't drink and are treated fairly. But over all it is a very difficult and demanding environment that drives people to all of this.

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over 3 years ago

Hello i have been in corrections for 10 1/2 years 4 years as a first line supervisor. Marriage is a work in progress, I work the graveyard shift with days off during the week. She works 8-4 mon-fri doesnt get much worse. We have been married for 7 years, and i have to say our marriage was sinking and sinking fast. She gave every excuse to break the marriage..what it came down to was time and time together we fixed it for now but it seems time has reared its ugly head..She brings her job home more then me she is a RN nurse that works for a national insurance company...Good luck to all of you and be safe on the job

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almost 4 years ago

My wife has been a CO for 8 years, we are getting a divorce because of the things she needs to talk about that I cant handle, I want her back but she wont leave certain things at work and I cant do this anymore. there should be a counseling option through the prison.

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almost 6 years ago

I agree with what you have cited. I work in Corrections and there are at least 2-3 people walked out a month for envolvment with offenders. Our prison systems are over crowded. I work in a housing unit that is supposed to hold 190 offenders, and right now it has 226 offenders in it. We have them on the floor on cots and bunks. It is a very stressful job when you dont have the staff to back up the population or the management to give a damn about you doing your job. Dept. of Corrections is trying to lean towards a more "friendly" environment, but you have the "old head" CO's that wont let that happen, they are too stuck in "this is how we USED to do it" ways. Everyone deals with stress in a different way, but I do have to agree that it takes a certain person to work for the department. And YES leave your job at work, and your home life at home. Thats what messes a lot of people up. The divorce rate is high because people come to work and work with the same staff over and over for 8-16 hour shifts at a time, dont you think your going to get to know someone pretty good in the small amount of time? They teach you in the academy, "Dont get your honey, where you get your money." But a lot of staff dont listen to this policy.

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almost 6 years ago

I want to know how current the material is that you are citing. I've been in corrections 20 years, and we've been preached about the divorce rates forever. However, many aspects of the job have changed in the past 20 years including changes in the culture (i.e. the practice of the "old boys" network to always go drinking after work), more focus on health and physical fitness, balance of work and family, etc. I would like to know if there are any current studies on divorce rates, because I am highly skeptical.

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almost 6 years ago

Just support him in his daily stress management. Be patient and advise him to leave his job's problem at the job.

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about 2 years ago

I currently work as a Canadian Federal Correctional Officer and my greatest stressors come from NOT the inmates but: Moron Managers, Wardens and Deputy Wardens included, as well stupid collegues who chose to make others live miserable! This is by far the worst profession and if I could do it over again, I WOULDNT BE HERE!

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about 2 years ago

I have been in corrections for 33 years,28 years at the rank of sergeant. I blame the phila. prison system for there very poor training,and there lack of attention to the staffs high level of stress.

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over 2 years ago

I really would like some information on how to work in a Jail as a Correctional Officer that deals with the strees of the job while living out my Christisn faith. From Officers to inmates.
We deal with power trips, attitudes, taunting (from both sides) ,making fun of, Laziness, and of course, Use of Force on inmates. And more....
The Jail C.O.'s could use more training in ALL AREAS!!!
Please give me some mature insight and direct me to other web links, videos and books.
It would be nice if you get some materials to The City of Arlington Texas Police Departmemt. I know there are more men and women dealing with this in the Jail and on the streets. We need help and prayer, I desire to have integrity and good character, with my actions and SPEECH.
From supervision to The Cheif, it seems as nothing is being done.
How can an Officer be respected, if he talks with foul language and insights the inmate?
I have complete understanding you can't plead with or baby inmates, we have a serious and dangerous job to do. But, a few of the Officers, either in the Jail or on the street, treat and talk about inmates like they are ALL filthy scum bags. Some inmates make a first time honest mistake.
You can THROW that ethics training out the window, did NO good. People looked at it as a waste of time. We need Moral Values and sinsitivity training!!!
We have a real LACK of SINCITIVTY of feeling/respect with a lot of our Officers. ****This has gotten us many Use of Forces!!!!
I also realize this is a tough job and yes there are PROPER times for rasing your voice and being authoritative. But, constant foul/dirty language, from any Officer and LACK of respect to people, UNEXCUSABLE!!!!!!!!
Police are to serve and portect, we should be held to a HIGHER STANDARD, NOT stoop to thug level. SELF CONTROL is needed....
That pretty much somes it up, I pray you will lead in the right direction and contacts, w/o throwing my name under the bus.
Thank-you & Have a Blessed New Year,
Carl Browning #2709