Correctional officers have a unique job description that is stressful in every sense of the word. They experience mental, emotional, and sometimes physical distress on the job, yet they barely notice the effects of such events until it is too late. Correctional personnel are regularly subjected to severe abusive, bad behavior and physical assaults with the intention to kill or injure them by inmates in the event of attempted escape or crime (Brower, 2013). Since they are oblivious of the negative and damaging mental and body invasion, they cannot renew the wellness of their minds. Thus, they develop negative behavioral patterns and become emotionally unstable to different extents. As a result, many suffer unnecessarily because of their lack of knowledge of this phenomenon.
In an article published in the correctional newsletter Correctional Oasis, the author makes the analogy that corrections fatigue is analogous to metal fatigue. Metal fatigue is a structural damage that develops in metal structures when they are repeatedly subjected to stressors (Tudor, 2012). These stressors are the loading of goods beyond their carrying capacity that leads to the development of microscopic cracks. The microscopic cracks eventually grow into significant cracks that will rapidly break (Tudor, 2012). The point of this paper is to discuss what the author means by this and what can management and officers do to intervene and mitigate the effects of this phenomenon in one’s professional and personal lives.
What the author means
What the author means by this analogy is that repeated stress experienced by correctional officers can have considerable harmful effects on the work environment, physical and mental health of correctional officers in both their social and home lives (Tudor, 2012). The stressors repeatedly occur and have far-reaching damages. As metal fatigue causes wear and tear on a structure, so do work related stressors in corrections fatigue. They leave “tears” on people’s emotions, bodies, beliefs, behavior and thought processes as discussed below (Tudor, 2012).
Sources of corrections fatigue
The major source of stress for correctional officers directly involves the inmates they are charged with supervising. The most harmful stressor is the threat of violence and injury that inmates can cause for correctional officers (Brower, 2013). The number of non-fatal violent occurrences experienced by correctional personnel is greater than that of any other profession except police officers. The possible threat of injury by correctional personnel is intensified by the fact that they have to deal with violent people daily. Correctional officers must contend with other forms of inmate deviance, for example, gang activity, contraband, inmate violence, rape, and manipulation. Correctional officers must give care, guardianship, and be in charge of an inmate population that is habitually disobliging (Brower, 2013).
Correctional officers work in a bunged and protected work environment with restricted freedom of movement and limited exposure to the outside and natural lighting. The physical demands of the job that include protracted exposure to standing and walking on concrete can lead to chronic back, neck and knee pain and injury (Brower, 2013). Inmate behavior requires correctional officers to be hyper-vigilant, self-controlled and to set boundaries. The job description of correctional personnel is ambiguous in that it must balance punishment and rehabilitative objectives (Pollock, 2013).
Correctional staff work stress negatively affects their commitment to the organization and harm the quality of correctional staff and supervisor relationships (Pollock, 2013). Burnout causes the staff to withdraw from the job, and this hampers their effectiveness. For example, job burnout causes inaccurate inmate head counts and lackadaisical searches.
There are a number of personality-related traits that can create fatigue among correctional personnel. These traits are individualized in the sense that they may bring about stress for one correctional officer and not for another. For example, one correctional officer may be apathetic in potential conflicts due to fear while another may be exceedingly aggressive (Pollock, 2013). These reactions may produce negative impacts on how they deal with conflict outside of the work environment. In a bid to deal with work stress, susceptible correctional staff may resort to substance and alcohol abuse (Brower. 2013).
Work-family conflict is the major source of correctional staff fatigue. Stress in the home can be caused by aspects of the job including chronic fatigue, shift work, pessimism, trauma and other disturbing behavior. Withdrawal and remoteness are the major behavioral changes among correctional staff. Withdrawal is caused by an unwillingness to discuss or share their daily work experiences with family members. Furthermore, it is difficult for a correctional officer to make ineffective innate and acquired characters that are useful and professional in the workplace but ineffective at home and in their personal and social lives (Brower, 2013).
Interpersonal and family relationships are negatively impacted due to difficulties in developing trust in other people. It may lead to physical and emotional abuse at home as well as divorce. The job demands of correctional personnel may leave them with a lack of connectedness and empathy (Brower, 2013).
Correctional agencies may give counseling programs that are tailored to treat specific mental health concerns related to correctional staff. Correctional facilities should find confidential treatment providers who are sufficiently abreast of best practices specific to corrections. These providers must be aware of pre-employment psychological requirements, treatment for stress, and the various job-specific individual and family problems that emanate from work in the area of corrections (Brower, 2013).
Additionally, internal employee assistance programs that are an extension of correctional facilities may be established. It involves consultation and training of the correctional facilities’ leadership to effectively handle troubled employees and improve the work environment. The program could aggressively endorse the availability of assistance to not just the employees, but family members and the work organization as well. Employees can be provided with private and timely services to deal with their personal concerns that have the potential to affect their job performance. The program can make use of meaningful confrontation, motivation and short-term and long-term interventions to address problems that affect their holistic well-being and job performance (Brower, 2013).
- Brower, J. (2013). Correctional officer wellness and safety literature review. Retrieved from http://www.middlesexsheriff.org/CorrectionalOfficerWellnessSafety_LitReview.pdf
- Pollock, J. (2013). Ethical dilemmas and decisions in criminal justice. Cengage Learning.
- Tudor, C. S. (2012). Metal Fatigue as an Analogy for Corrections Fatigue. Retrieved from http://www.corrections.com/news/article/30721-metal-fatigue-as-an-analogy-for-corrections-fatigue