|By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global|
We have a powerful topic this month and one that corrections must address. Corrections staff (uniformed and non-uniformed) face an extraordinary amount of stress daily. There are various reasons for this; work conditions, dealing with problematic inmate populations, often a lack of support, double shifts, corrections staff departing the field, and other areas not discussed. We also recognize corrections is a twenty-four-hour job, seven days a week. Corrections staff cannot vacate and leave the prison unattended. Staff wellness is not a new phenomenon. I can remember when I first started corrections employment back in the 1970s, and many officers were not in physical shape to perform the daily job functions. When we discuss wellness, we have to be aware of the physical concerns and the mental components. If we do not deal with stress, lack of physical and psychological conditioning will take its toll. The field of corrections emphasizes the safety and security of the facility. But what about the safety and security of staff?
The opening paragraph comments scratch the surface. Staff is our most precious resource, yet many agencies continue to ignore the concerns identified. We noticed this additional stress during the COVID epidemic and its effects on staff. There is another dimension we must consider, staff’s family. How many of our staff take the job and stress home with them? Corrections administration must recognize staff stress not only affects the home but the workplace as well. Then we wonder why the following occurs; sick leave abuse, lack of support in the workplace, increase in incidents, and how many were precipitated by staff, staff quitting without notice, lack of staff and programs canceled, and the other categories.
We have to ask ourselves what types of services and support are available to staff. Next would be, are staff aware of these services and if not, why? At the same time, we stress the importance of communication, yet this continues to be problematic. Earlier I mentioned staff and did not include supervisors and administration. We must recognize stress affects all employees. Staff must also take the initiative to take control of their bodies and begin the positive change process. You may regain the same enthusiasm you had when you started your corrections career. Also, this carries over to the home. Remember the things you used to enjoy and become more active. If you have limited outside interests, there are many activities through community centers. Do not be afraid to change old habits and take charge of your lives.
I did not know how many were familiar with the National Institute of Corrections. I want you take the time to review the following site. I provided some areas you will find helpful.
Suicide in Corrections
Hot Topic: Correctional Officer Life Expectancy
Hot Topic: Do you have information about correctional officer work schedules?
Crisis, Stress, and Human Resilience: An International Journal(link is external)
I hope you find the link helpful and will share it with your colleagues.
You now have ample information and resources. All most of us need is a little nudge and a support system. The worst thing you can do is overdo your workout. Start slowly and give your body time to adjust. You will begin to see the benefits of having a healthy body and mind. Face it, corrections is demanding. You have worked hard and witnessed many ups and down.
Remember, each day is closer to retirement. When you retire, you want to be healthy and enjoy the retirement.
Thanks, and stay safe out there.
Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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