Taxing jobs in secure facilities lead to overwhelming stress, but the officers’ union and the employer are partnering to find solutions.
Michigan corrections officers and forensic security assistants are exposed to high levels of violence, injury, and death events in their workplaces. They also grapple with high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms, and as their exposure to traumatic events increases, staff’s mental health decreases. Additionally, those who have more than 10 years of experience on the job, and those who work in high-security prisons, are even more likely to suffer from these conditions.
These findings were revealed in an academic research study conducted by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a non-profit corporation which specializes in the health and well-being of corrections professionals. The study, Prevalence of Trauma-related Health Conditions in Correctional Officers: A Profile of Michigan Corrections Organization members, is based on a staff wellness assessment taken by about 1,000 employees represented by Michigan Corrections Organization.
“The study’s findings reinforce a growing perspective among researchers that corrections officers suffer health detriments due to high stress and potentially traumatic occupational experiences comparable to those more widely known to occur for police officers, firefighters, and combat military personnel,” said Caterina Spinaris, Executive Director at Desert Waters.
Now, Michigan Corrections Organization and the Michigan Department of Corrections are joining forces with Desert Waters on a more extensive study of addressing corrections officer stress due to traumatic exposure on the job. This partnership, which is contingent on grant funding, will include further research to help officers cope with work-related stressors.
“Our employees are the greatest asset we have in the department of corrections and their mental health and well-being are of the utmost importance. We are pleased to join MCO and Desert Waters in this further study,” MDOC Director Heidi Washington said. “Our hope is this scientific study will serve as a guide that will lead us to the most effective training and best practices possible to help our officers better handle the stresses they face at work and that we know they carry with them once they leave the prison walls.”
“MCO members have seen the effects of stress first hand, and the toll it takes on our health and families,” said Cary Johnson, MCO Executive Board member and point-person on the union’s PTSD awareness work. “Now, we have scientific data that helps us understand what we’re experiencing and empowers us to bring it out of the shadows.”
“We’ve established that suffering from PTSD and depression symptoms is very real for our members,” MCO President Tom Tylutki said. “I’m pleased that MCO, MDOC, and Desert Waters aren’t just resting on that fact. We’re quickly moving forward to hopefully help staff recognize symptoms and take action that could possibly save lives. That’s our responsibility to our members and their families.”
Michigan Corrections Organization/SEIU represents more than 6,500 corrections officers working at state prisons and forensic security assistants at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry.
Key findings and facts
(To accompany MCO/MDOC Join Press Release Issued 5/25/16)
• The study was based on a web-based, secure and password-protected Staff Wellness Assessment offered to everyone represented by Michigan Corrections Organization, including State of Michigan corrections officers and forensic security assistants at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry.
• Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a non-profit corporation which specializes in the health and well-being of corrections professionals, conducted the assessment, analyzed the results, and wrote a report of the findings.
• Desert Waters Correctional Outreach wrote an invitation to participate in the study, and Michigan Corrections Organization disbursed it through email.
• The Staff Wellness Assessment was available online Nov. 17 through Dec. 31, 2015. 991 officers completed the assessment battery in its entirety, anonymously.
• The assessment battery was composed of 66 questions, and took about 25 minutes to complete.
• The anonymous assessment does not diagnose anyone. Instead, it shows the cumulative effects of staff’s prolonged exposure to violence, injury, and death that commonly occur in prisons.
• About 34 percent of corrections officers/forensic security assistants who completed the assessment battery met diagnostic criteria for PTSD on a valid screening assessment instrument. For those who work in high-security facilities, about 39 percent met PTSD criteria on that instrument. (pg. 11)
• About 36 percent of corrections officers/forensic security assistants who completed the assessment battery met criteria for a depressive disorder on a screening instrument. For those who work in high-security prisons, the rate was 42 percent. (pg. 13)
• About 25 percent of corrections officers/forensic security assistants who completed the assessment battery met criteria for both PTSD and depression. For those who work in high security prisons, the rate was about 31 percent. (pg. 14)
• About 5 percent of corrections officers/forensic security assistants who completed the assessment battery were classified as being at high risk of suicide. (pg. 14)
• There were no statistically significant differences in assessed mental health conditions based on gender or prior military experience of corrections officers/forensic security assistants. (pg.15-16)
• Staff with more than 10 years of experience had higher estimates of rates of mental health conditions than those with 10 or less years of experience. These differences were statistically significant for PTSD estimates (with staff with more than 10 years of experience having a
rate that was 15.7 percent higher than those with 10 or less years on the job), and for those meeting criteria for both PTSD and depression (with 7.5 percent more staff who had more than 10 years of experience meeting criteria for both conditions than those with 10 or less
years on the job). (pg. 26)