New Study Will Help Get Correctional Officers The Mental Health Services They Need

By David Konow 06/20/17

One in nine correctional officers surveyed say they have contemplated or attempted suicide.

Prison guards at Dade County Men's Correctional Facility, Florida

A new study is focusing on the mental troubles that affect people that work in prisons, and what can be done to help prison workers who can no longer cope.

According to USA Today, a number of correctional officers have participated in a study in California, which has one of the biggest prison systems in the United States, to see where much-needed mental health services can be provided. There are about 26,000 correctional officers working in California, and there is a high suicide rate among them.

An official for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association said, “We do a decent job with saying that ‘this system messes with the incarcerated, this system impacts their lives,’ but what we don’t say is, ‘what’s the impact that this job is having on the correctional officers?’”

There is now a new focus on the number of correctional officers who commit suicide, which hadn’t been closely tallied before. With the results of this comprehensive study, the Peace Officers Association wants to make changes in how correctional officers can seek mental health treatment, not just for suicidal thoughts, but for other disorders like post-traumatic stress. (USA Today reports that suicides among correctional officers weren’t specifically tallied by the government, with the focus primarily on fatalities that happened in the line of duty.)

Over 8,000 corrections and parole officers participated in this mental health survey, with 65% of them admitting they had PTSD symptoms, and one in nine confessing that they’ve contemplated or tried suicide. The survey was created by Amy E. Lerman, an associate professor at the University of Berkeley, California, who says, “We need more research. We need to know what works, and what type of investments make a difference.”

In addition to this survey, research will also include focus groups with corrections officers, and further experiments to see what mental health programs could provide greater long-term impact. (One potential idea would have correctional officers take required stress management training.)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confessed that it needs better psychological resources for its corrections officers. In a statement, an executive for the department said, “It is our responsibility as an organization to look closely at what we are doing.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.