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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Five Suicides in One Year at SOCF -- Corrections Officers in War Zones

 

"In a 2011 survey of 3,599 corrections officers, researchers found that 44 percent experienced some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, while 27 percent 'met the criteria for full PTSD.”

--CorrectionsOne.com

To my shock and utter amazement, I learned that Randall Hiles, president of Local 7330 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA), reported that five Southern Ohio Correctional Facility officers have committed suicide in a one year period.

Of course in the wake of this unbelievable tragedy, Hiles said DRC needs to take a “good hard look” at the situation.“If there had been this many inmates who had committed suicide in a year’s time at one institution, they would have spent countless dollars – hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars – doing investigations to try to find out what the problems were,” Hiles said. “I only wish the DRC cared as much about the officers and line staff as they do the inmates in these situations.”

“The well-being our of DRC staff, both on and off duty, is critically important and something that is taken very serious, JoEllen Smith of ODRC said. “We are in the process of reviewing and enhancing our staff wellness training. In addition to ongoing staff training and peer support, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is offered to all State of Ohio employees and we encourage staff to take advantage of the services offered through this program.”

(Frank Lewis. “5 suicides by SOCF staff in 1 year.” Portsmouth Daily Times. July 15, 2016.)

These deaths are not just a local concern. Research studies have found high suicide rates in the corrections field. For example, a 2009 New Jersey State Police Task Force Study found that corrections officers have a suicide rate that is twice as high as the rate of police officers and the general population.

According to one study by professors Steven Stack and Olga Tsoudis of Wayne State University, the risk of suicide is 39 percent higher for these men and women than in all other professions combined.

(Oscar Lopez. “Prison Officers Need Help, but They Won’t Ask for It.”
Newsweek. May 27, 2014.)

And, a comprehensive 2013 U.S. Department of Justice's Programs Diagnostic Center Study found corrections officers:
  • Have a much higher rate of suicide than those in other occupations
  • Experience some level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their careers
  • On average, will not live to see their 59th birthday

     
The Department of Justice study demonstrated that there are four different categories of stressors for corrections officers: 
 
Inmate-related: threat of violence/injury, inmate mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, etc. 

The number of non-fatal violent incidents experienced by COs is higher than for any other profession, with the exception of police officers.

Occupational (inherent to the profession): closed work environment, hyper-vigilance, etc.

COs must deal with other forms of inmate criminality and deviance, such as gang activity, drug use (and other types of contraband), inmate-on-inmate violence, sex (and the potential for rape) and manipulation.

Another significant source of inmate-related stress for COs involves the psychological and emotional problems of the inmates they supervise. Prisoners are chronically and increasingly mentally ill, suicidal, impulsive and manipulative

Organizational/administrative:mismanagement, poor leadership, inadequate resources/ pay, understaffing, etc.

Organizational stressors include: inadequate training, politics, shift assignments, heavy workload, lengthy internal investigations and decision making regarding disciplinary action, excessive disciplinary action, lack of administrative support, and poor supervision/leadership.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ, 2005) found that a high caseload is the main organizational and administrative source of CO stress, followed by paperwork and deadlines. Several other studies have shown that work-related stress is tied to organizational factors such as shift work, job dissatisfaction, overtime, inadequate pay, and conflicts with coworkers and superiors.

Psycho-social: fear, work/family conflict, media scrutiny, etc. 

There are a host of personality-related attributes that can produce stress among COs. However, these attributes are individualized, in that they may produce stress for one CO but not for another. For example, a CO may display a lack of assertiveness in potential conflicts. Another CO may be too overly aggressive. Situations that instill fear in one CO may produce excitement in his or her colleague.

Stress at home can be caused by features of the job including shift work, dual roles at work and at home, chronic fatigue, cynicism, pessimism, sarcasm, flattened drama/stress response and exposure to trauma and other disturbing behaviors. Withdrawal and isolation at home are two common behavioral changes among COs

(Jaime Brower, Psy.D. “Correctional Officer Wellness and Safety Literature Review.” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center. July 2013.)

To date, there has been very little research on the prevalence and effectiveness of correctional officer wellness programs. Much more research is needed to develop a better understanding of the prevalence and causes of suicide among corrections officers. The demand for action is crucial as more years of corrections experience and higher security levels have been found to be associated with higher mental health condition rates. In addition, pre-corrections military experience and gender demonstrated little to no effect upon mental health condition rates.

Many believe Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian said it best: "We spend a lot of time focusing on the mental health of our inmates, but not enough time focusing on the mental health of the people who are caring for them.” 
 
(Carl ToersBijns. “Addressing Correctional Officer Stress- National Criminal Justice.” ncjrs.gov. December 17, 2012.)

We are so understaffed and so overcrowded across our prisons, it’s miraculous that we can handle it,” says Brian Dawe, a former corrections officer in Massachusetts and co-founder of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network. He was speaking of the state system. The federal system is no better. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, “While the number of prison inmates in the 119 [Federal Bureau of Prisons]-operated institutions has grown by 41 percent since fiscal 2000, the number of correctional workers has increased only 19 percent.”
 
I believe we take the tremendously important work of corrections officers for granted. They perform an incredible public service under extremely dangerous conditions. We fail to recognize the importance of their work, and we forget that they are constantly under great stress and in constant peril. 
 
In fact, these officers work in a war zone. It is important that we encourage the state and federal government to do everything possible to make their jobs safer while we, ourselves, support needed change that helps them cope with the dangers of their profession. May God help these people who help keep us all save 
 
I grieve for those who have taken their lives because of the unforgiving pressures and stress of their jobs. I offer my condolences of love and peace to the families of the officers. I hope the readers find this blog entry informative … informative and startling enough to take new measures to offer much-needed assistance.




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