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William J. Morgan, Jr.* William J. Morgan, Jr. is ABD at Capella University, a criminal justice professor at Erie Community College, and a correction officer in the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Abstract: This article examines the literature for correction officer stress for the years 1977-2007. Topics include all general forms of correction officer’s stress, such as stress from inmates, administration, media, public, and the organization. Stress consequences from working in the correctional environment are many and dire that has far reaching affects for not only officers but their families and the organization. Recommendations are made for future directions in the study of correction officer stress. KEYWORDS: Correction Officer, Correctional Facility, Officer Stress, Organizational Stress
On a daily basis, inmates outnumber the correction officer where the ratio can be as high as 100:1. The administrative rules created by correctional agencies are often ambiguous and leave the officer with little autonomy to manage the dorm, cell block, messhall, recreation yard or other area observed. Violence can erupt at anyplace and at anytime. An officer may be called upon to use force on an inmate to protect a co-worker, selfpreservation, or an inmate. Correctional administration makes the decision to back the use of force in a split second decision. Based on reports in the media that portray correction officers negatively, public scrutiny may further close officers into an already closed subculture; the officer may be suspended without pay for months until an investigation is complete and may lose his or her job based on the testimony of an inmate (Hansen & Sinclair, 2005). Health and stress-related problems may occur and affect the personal life of the officer. Similar situations happen over a number of years and have a major impact upon the officer, their family, and occupation. Male correction officers employed in a correctional facility for females have the added stress of accusations of sexual misconduct, demonization by the media based on accusations of sexual misconduct, lack of support from administration, and organizational stress, which are _________________________________________ *Address correspondence to the author: William J. Morgan, Jr. Erie Community College 45 Oak Street Buffalo, New York 14203 (716) 851-1246 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
elements of correctional work (Kallestad, 2006; Mills, 2007); this is contrary to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Department Statistics report that approximately twothirds of rape cases reported that female correctional staff engaged in sexual misconduct with male inmates (Green, 2006). However, the focus of this paper is general stress for correctional officers as delineated in the following pages for the years 1977-2007.
Correction officer stress
The literature proposes sources of stress for correction officers (Anson, Carlson, & Thomas, 2003; Black, 2001; Finn, 2000, 1998; Morgan, Van Haveren, & Pearson, 2002; Paoline, Lambert, & Hogan, 2006; Philliber, 1987; Rosefield, 1983; Tewksbury & Higgins, 2006; Tracy, 2004; Ulmer, 1992). For example, officers may experience role conflict resulting from emotional dissonance and interactions with inmates, as proposed by Tewksbury and Higgins, or that correction officers are portrayed as brutes in the news and popular media (Finn, 2000; 1998). No two correctional organizations or facilities are managed the same but parallels can be drawn between the current literature of stress and state correction officers (Craig, 2004; MacKenzie & Mitchell, 2005; Wener, 2006). Research conducted by Morgan, Van Haveren, and Pearson (2002) explored previous studies of correction officer stress and the inconsistent results that followed; a future study recommendation suggested the exploration of how correction officers cope with workrelated stress. Specific examples of stress experienced by correction officers are outlined below. The causes of stress are inconsistent and complex although all sources have been explored in prisons (Slate & Vogel, 1997). Several authors (Cheek & Miller, 1982; Cullen, Link, Wolfe, & Frank, 1985; Finn, 1999; Griffin, 2006; Grossi & Berg, 1991; Huckabee, 1992; Inwald, 1982; Keinan & MalachPines, 2007; Lasky, Gordon, & Srebalus, 1986; Marston, 1993) suggested that unique and powerful
stressors are a product of work in the correctional environment, particularly for those who maintain security and safety. According to Rosefield (1983), 10 major categories of stress, out of 32 primary stressors, were identified in a study by the North Carolina Division of Prison and listed in descending severity. This list wraps correction officer stress into a neat package, to include inmate perpetrated stress, organizational, administrative factors, and outside sources of stress. The first category is general stress, with the most significant sources emanated from inmates. The second source originated from role definition during a crises and expectations of job performance. Third, stress resulted in poor control due to overcrowding, understaffing, and the need for structure in the correctional facility. Fourth, stress is increased when a forum is not provided for officers to voice concerns about personal safety. Related to personal safety, the fifth issue is isolation and the personal problems associated with the correctional environment. Sixth, officers found other job related pressures such as rigid work load and preventing escapes; this ties into the seventh issue of work load or the discomfort officers feel because of the amount of work they are expected to perform. Eighth, officers find stress created by inmates “setting officers up” and the difficulty of giving inmates orders. Ninth, officers found that the community does not respect the occupation of corrections officer. Finally, officers find that preventing escapes as a further source of stress. Specifically, the literature below addresses the caveats of correctional officer stress in the four general areas of stress from inmates, organization, administration, and outside sources.
assaultive to other inmates or staff, (Cornelius, 2001; Finn, 2000). Officers are subjected to traumatic but brief incidents of violence enveloped in monotonous supervision of inmates (Jenish, 1996). These acts of violence can be numerous and serve to impact the consciousness of the officer. In the subjective views of inmates, Cornelius (1994) indicated that violent behavior is a means to survive and cope with incarceration and not thought of as nefarious behavior. Cornelius further contended that inmates use violence as a tool to reflect self-importance due to interpersonal failures and lack of nurturing in early life. It was cited by Finn (2000, 1998); Cornelius (1994) that specific acts of inmate violence that impact officers pre- and post-incident include hostage taking, riots, homicide, rape, fights, and inmate suicide. Black (2001) further alluded that stress may occur because of weapons that inmates may carry and use in violent assaults, the attempt to gain inmate compliance to the rules may encounter a sudden outburst of violence/anger resulting in injury or death, or may experience guilt over situations that they cannot control (Kauffman, 1988). To a lesser extent, officer’s point out that stress emanates from inmates’ bad attitudes that lead to stereotyping of inmates may occur from the more subtle means of coercion (Gray, 2002). Inmate demands and manipulation is another key factor in correction officer stress, according to Cornelius (2001, 1994, 1992); Finn (1998); Marston (1993); Woodruff (1993), through manipulation of officers, inmates attempt to gain some modicum of control over the prison environment that undermine security. Cornelius referred to inmate manipulation as the attempt to control others through subtle means, or to get something he or she wants; inmates attempt manipulation through lying, narcissism, blaming others for their problems, and a lack of empathy (Cornelius; Finn, 2000). It has been further cited that correction officers who deal with constant demands or successfully manipulated by inmates experienced extreme stress. Black (2001) found that stress in the correctional setting is most related to inmate matters such as demands, requests, or complaints. Ironically, inmate related stress is not experienced by security a staff that has significant interaction with inmates, but officers that have periods of shorter duration because they are not as equipped to deal with the inmate population (Garland, 2002). Security staff that have negative and intense incidents with inmates may fall victim to “secondary post-traumatic stress,” as cited by Janik (1995, ¶ 5). Inmates are only one source of stress that correction officers are subjected to on a daily basis.
Inmate Role in C.O. Stress
Several sources, such as Castle and Martin (2006); Armstrong and Griffin (2004); Drory and Shamir (1982); Cullen, et al., (1985); Grossi and Berg (1991); Triplett, Mullings, and Scarborough (1996, 1999) elucidated that employment in corrections is stressful because correction officers perceive and deal with people who have violent records where fear, confrontations, and violence is ever present (Long & Vogues, 1987; Keinan & Malach-Pines; Finn, 1998; Kauffman, 1998; Martinez, 1997). According to Camp, Gaes, Langan, and Saylor, (2003); Finn (1998); Inwald, 1982, increased inmate violence, inmate crowding, inmate density, dangerous gang activity, physical setting, and lack of recognition of officer authority intensified stress. Black (2001) contended that officers are concerned about concentration of inmates in certain areas of the facility, such as the yard, visit room, or messhall, which are considered “hotspots” for violence. Attacks on property or persons within the facility are common because inmates are bored and frustrated, and may threaten, or become verbally/physically
Organizational role in stress
According to several authors, (Beehr & Newman, 1978; Cooper & Marshall, 1976; Drory & Shamir,
1982; Katz & Kahn, 1978; Keinan & Malach-Pines, 2007; Samak, 2003, organizational factors were significant sources of stress for officers that have consequences for both the individual and the organization. In the meta-analysis of correctional officer stress researched by Dowden & Tellier (2004), it was discovered that security differences were not important to job stress; however, it is noted that job-related stress in a maximum-security institution is higher than other types of institutions. Several authors (Black, 2001; Kauffman, 1988; Finn, 1998; Schaufeli & Peeters, 2000) proposed that variables such as rank, shift work, job assignment, ethnicity, or gender are important, and given ample attention in the literature; gender is a significant predictor of stress in corrections and traditionally considered a male dominated profession. Female officers reported that supervisors served as a form of work-related stress compared to male officers who rarely report such anomalies (Auerbach, Quick, & Pegg, 2003; Castle & Martin, 2006; Cullen, Link, Wolfe, & Frank, 1985, Gross, Larson, Urban, & Zupan, 1994; Pogrebin & Poole, 1998; Triplett, Mullings, & Scarborough, 1999). Furthermore, female officers may not be considered reliable in emergencies, such as an assaultive inmate or inmates fighting by male correction officers, which affect perceptions of female correctional officer competency (Anson, Carlson, & Thomas, 2003; Tewksbury & Collins, 2006; Zupan, 1992) and cited by Anson, et al.; Philliber (1987); Belknap (1991, 2001); Britton (1997); Griffin (2006); Hemmens, Stohr, Schoeler, & Miller (2002); Jurik (1985); Owen (1985); Pogrebin & Poole (1997, 1998); PollockByrne (1986); Zimmer (1986); Zupan (1992) that employee traits generally considered masculine in nature, such as the strength of female officers in physical confrontations and a willingness to use force on inmates, is a reservation with male officers and inmates. A further source of stress for female officers are the unwanted sexual advances, discrimination, overt/subtle sexist language, and harassment by inmates, co-workers, or supervisors (Anson, et al.; Belknap, 1991; Black, 2001; Griffin, Armstrong, & Hepburn, 2005; Philliber; Owen, 1988; Pogrebin & Poole, 1997, 1998; Savicki, Cooley, & Gjvesvold, 2003; Stohr, Mays, Beck, & Kelley, 1998; Zimmer, 1986) where female officers tend to report higher levels of stress than male officers do, greater levels of burnout, (Anson, et al., 2003; Carlson, Anson, & Thomas, 2002) and greater levels of absenteeism (Brough & Williams, 2007; Lambert, Edwards, Camp, & Saylor, 2005). Although an extensive search of the literature failed to find a study specifically related to male officer stress in relation to work with female inmates, gender is only one source
of organizational stress that the female correction officer is exposed. In a more gender neutral form, understaffing, mandatory overtime, shift work, rotating shifts, low or inadequate pay, role ambiguity/conflict, and problems with co-workers lend to organizational forms of stress (Brodsky, 1977,1982; Cherniss, 1980; Cheek & Miller, 1982; Childress, Talucci, & Wood, 1999; Delmore, 1982; Finn, 2000, 1998; Gerstein, Topp, & Correll; Gillian, 2001; Harris, 1983; Keinan & Malach-Pines, 2007; Lambert, Hogan, & Barton, 2002; Rosefield, 1983; Shamir & Drory, 1982; Stock & Skultey, 1994). Many officer’s report not answering their home telephone because it may be the facility calling for overtime, and that officer’s on duty may be mandated for overtime, as cited by Finn; Kauffman (1988). This is a product of understaffing “prevalent in many prisons and jails as a result of unattractive salaries, high turnover, and excessive use of sick time or disability leave” (Brodsky, 1982; Finn, 2000; 1998; Gerstein, Topp, & Correll; Lombardo, 1981; Ratner, 1985). Understaffing prisons leads to consequences, such as the inability to get time off from work and completion of required tasks in a timely manner. Finn further found that many officers report that extra overtime money is a great incentive due to traditionally low salaries; however, these same officers find that a product of too much overtime is burnout or a complacent work ethic. This is a tautological cycle resulting in the excessive use of sick time, mandatory overtime, and the use of rotating shift work, which affects the main source of security in the prison: the correction officer. However, these are only a few of the organizational consequences of officer stress. Further organizational stresses for correctional officers include role ambiguity and role conflict in the lack of clear guidelines for job performance where low commitment and high turnover is a consequence to the organization. Problems may arise from supervisors, such as unclear expectations, difficulty interpreting the rules, and imprecise role definition that lead to stress (Brodsky, 1982; Cheek & Miller, 1983; Crouch, 1986; Dahl & Steinberg, 1979; Dowden & Tellier, 2004; Finn, 2000; Gerstein, Topp, & Correll, 1987; Hepburn & Knepper, 1993; Hogan, Lambert, Jenkins, & Wambold, 2006; Lambert, 2004, 2006; Poole & Regoli, 1980; Rosefield, 1983; Slate & Vogel, 1997; Van Voorhis, Cullen, Link, & Wolfe, 1991; Woodruff, 1993), which may lead to low commitment to the organization (Lambert, 2004). Cheek and Miller cited that the correction officer is expected to wear the many hats of custodian, disciplinarian, rehabilitator, and many become confused when these elements are coupled with a lack of autonomy, which leads to role conflict. It is within this contextual role that ambiguity is found and where officers are expected to follow all guidelines and rules when discretion and flexibility is
paramount to the managerial role, which leads to role overload/conflict and occupational tedium (Cheek & Miller, 1982; Drory & Shamir, 1982; Finn, 2000; Gerstein, et al.; Lasky, Gordon, & Srebalus, 1986; Lombardo, 1981; Toch & Klofas, 1982) As such, the correction officer is the manager of inmates and the person with the most contact with the population, but required to acquiesce to administration. As a Human Service component, Cheek & Miller (p.15) stated that correction officers are considered “developers of people,” and the managerial role is destroyed if not supported by administration. However, Robinson & Porporino (1996); Tellier & Robinson (1995) found that officers in a programming capacity report less stress than those in the managerial role and have greater job satisfaction, authority over inmates, and less strain. Occasionally, correction officers perpetrate stress upon each other because of the correctional officer subculture. A further example of organizational stress is problems with coworkers. According to Finn (2000; 1998), officers tend to experience stress may occur when a co-worker has inappropriate behavior with inmates, competition with other officers for limited assignments, anxiety that co-workers will refuse to back them in an emergency, and constantly venting frustrations to other officers. In some cases, extreme stress with coworkers is much worse than dealing with demanding or hostile inmates, albeit a lesser form of stress compared to other sources. Far from the officer subculture, Samak (2003) indicated that administration is another foundation for officer stress.
relations due to officer perceptions of questionable managerial practices (Garland, 2004; Hughes & Zamble, 1993; Keinan & Malach-Pines, 2007; Ulmer). Independent of the correctional paradigm, officers can experience cynicism towards correctional administration for other reasons. Educational level, race, length of tenure, and lack of endorsement of rehabilitative goals of officers may negatively impact cynicism towards administration (Black, 2001; Castle & Martin; 2006; Dowden & Tellier, 2004; Philliber, 1987). For example, Black discovered that non-Caucasian officers had less stress than Caucasian officers did when dealing with correctional administration. The results are mixed as to education and cynicism as Philliber found that officers with more education had a negative impact on job satisfaction and cynicism towards administration; Jurik, Halemba, Musheno, & Boyle (1985) found less dissatisfaction for educated officers. Independent of occupational factors, correction officers with military service tend to reject cynicism of correctional administration because of an ability to effectively interact with supervisors within the paramilitary atmosphere (Moon & Maxwell, 2004; Morgan, Van Haveren, & Pearson, 2002; Ulmer, 1992). Not ironically, following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the previous downturn in the economy, critical problems arose for corrections as the great need for law enforcement jobs became available along with fewer skilled and qualified workers, which lead to a lowered work standard (Kehoe, 2004). Additionally, the officer subculture may negatively impact/contribute to cynicism toward prison administration. The correction officer subculture socializes new officers to widespread cynicism of administration, which can severely disrupt the institution (Ulmer, 1992). Independent of the officer subculture, Ulmer followed-up the discussion of cynicism and tenure by emphasizing that through mid-career, officers tend to build up cynicism with a drop as one becomes more experienced. If the officer subculture is not confident that prison administration will back them by bending the rules to further the goals of corrections, this leads to cynicism and stress (Rosefield, 1983). However, correctional administration is only one further source where stress is originated.
Role of correctional administration
Several factors contribute to cynicism towards prison administration of work related issues and factors within the correctional environment as demonstrated in the literature. The lack of decision making, autonomy, and mismanagement in the form of missing or absent mission statements prevent officers from effectively performing their jobs. Correction Officers, according to Gray (2002), reported that correctional administration ignores and disregards them, which denies them autonomy to efficiently and effectively manage, leaving little discretion to administer to the daily management of the prison (Morris & Webb, 1978). The American Correctional Association (1983); Ulmer (1992) cited that correction officer’s are responsible to accurately interpret the rules and regulations, translate the policies and goals of correctional administration by maintaining order, supervising inmates, and enforcing rules, and most functions within the prison to maintain a safe and secure environment. Officer frustration and stress can hold negative implications for administration in “conflictual and problematic”
According to O’Brien and Gustafson (1985) characteristics of other high stress occupations differ from characteristics in the high stress occupation of corrections due to external influences. Correction officers may distance themselves from family members, friends, and others because of the stigmatization of officers from outside the correctional paradigm, such as the media, the public and other law enforcement
agencies (Cheek & Miller, 1982; Gillian, 2001; Harris, 1980; Keinan & Malach-Pines, 2007; Maghan & McLeish-Blackwell, 1991; Morris & Webb, 1978; Stalgaitis, Meyers, & Krisak, 1982; Tracy, 2004). The popular media mocks correction officers in prison movies as aggressive, ruthless, and intellectually limited individuals with the desire to make the lives of inmates as difficult as possible where the realities of prison are often ignored (Brodsky, 1982; Cheek & Miller, 1982; Tracy). Morris & Webb (p. 69) found correctional personnel disparagingly depicted as “representatives of a repressive, demeaning system” by inmates that the media turns to for information about prisons and officers. Tracy believes this leads to a negative public image and stigmatization of correction officers, “…[as] lazy, brutal, sexually deviant, or silly,” and “…[as] stupid, animalistic, and senseless abusers of socially wronged individuals,” as further suggested by Finn (1998, ¶ 1). As such, this leads to public resentment and empathy for inmates and disparages officers, as suggested by Morris & Webb. This public scrutiny leads to further consequences on a professional and personal level for the correction officer. A consequence of stigmatization, as cited by Finn (1998); Van Fleet (1992) there may be a refusal of the officers’ family to advertise that their spouse/parent works for corrections in order to avoid embarrassment or harassment. Other law enforcement agencies, according to Tracy, (2003, p. 517) stigmatize correction officers as the “lowest scum of law enforcement and professional babysitters.” Generally, during times of controversy such as prison escapes, officer misconduct, and riots is when news media pays attention to correction facilities and personnel (Morris &Webb, 1978). For example, in a news story written by Richard (2004), a 2003 escape of two inmates from a Correctional Facility in the Northeastern United States prompted the suspension of three correctional employees where complacency was blamed on the part of the officers and supervisors. However, the State failed to mention the lack of a perimeter security fence and understaffing could have been a factor. The president of the correction officers union and the City Mayor said that understaffing, the age of the prison, and a lack of security contributed to the escape. The current trend of many correctional paradigms is to close posts and claim that prisons are staffed to current levels, as indicated by Richards. Not coincidentally, all of the aforementioned stress sources may have serious outcomes for officers, their family, and the correctional organization.
When police and correction officers feel stress, several behavioral and physical problems may manifest themselves, such as heart disease, poor circulation, high blood pressure, teeth grinding, and aches and pains of the hands, neck, or back (Aabdollahi, 2002; Cornelius, 1994; Mearns & Mauch, 1998; Stinchcomb, 2004; Wells, Colbert, & Slate, 2006). Furthermore, Cheek, 1984; Cornelius; Lambert, Hogan, and Allen, 2006); Wells, Colbert, & Slate (2006), listed several behavioral problems, such as anger with inmates, family, or friends, impatience, frequent accidents, complacency, and the use of illegal substances. Several warning signs of substance abuse, as indicated by Stock & Skultety (1994), are secretive behavior, avoiding social activities, excessive worrying, and unprovoked aggression. Moreover, due to the traumatic experiences correction officers face, substance abuse is often equated with post-traumatic stress disorder (Janik, 1995; Stock & Skultety). Stress can have serious consequences beyond those previously mentioned. Extreme stress-related problems in corrections include depression, eating disorders, ulcers, and diabetes (Finn, 1998; Rosefield, 1983); it was cited by Samak (2003); Cheek and Di StefanoMiller (1983); Wells, Colbert, and Slate (2006) that correction officers in the United States are twice as likely to experience cardiovascular disease and other health related problems. These problems may lead to excessive use of sick time, compensation leave, and high staff turnover (Finn, 1998, 2000), use of alcohol or drugs, gambling or overeating (Childress, et al, 1999), strained family relationships resulting in domestic abuse, divorce, and displaced frustration, and is not particularly compatible with parental roles (Brough & Williams, 2006; Finn, 1998; Gillian, 2001; Lambert, Hogan, & Allen, 2006). Furthermore, occupational stress in corrections can lead to suicide and premature death (Childress, et al; Garland, 2002; Lambert, Hogan, & Allen); for example, the study conducted by Childress, et al, found that the average life expectancy for correction officers, at age 59, is below the life expectancy for other law enforcement and well below the national average. Rosefield suggested a high correlation between these stress-related anomalies to other law enforcement occupations, although there is no definitive proof that these anomalies are caused by such occupations.
Correction officers are the people who see to the daily management of correctional facilities in the United States today. Stress for correction and police officers draw many parallels; however, correction officers experience special stresses as they deal with a violent and nefarious population. It is not simply a matter of dealing with violence but with manipulation and demands from inmates, dealing with
Affects of Stress
administration, the media and public scrutiny, and the organization, which may have dire consequences for the health and family interactions of officers. A compendium of forces may cause stress and not a single category that comes under suspicion. A gap in the literature exists of male correction officers employed in a correctional facility for females and their perceptions and sources of work-related stress. A problem of stress exists in this special population due to the number of officers accused of sexual misconduct on an annual basis although most accusations are never brought to public attention; for those that are brought to media attention, it provides a stigmatizing affect for all male correction officers. This caveat is particularly true in the academic literature where additional stresses emanate as the media and the public scrutinize male officers and the conduct of female staff in the rape of inmates is often ignored; this is the recommendation for future research.
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