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Expanded Results of DWCO’s PTSD Survey

September 17th, 2010

In a prior post I presented some of the findings of Desert Waters’ groundbreaking survey of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in the corrections ranks. They are repeated here, together with some additional results. The detailed report is still being written. We plan to have it posted on our website by the end of October 2010.

• Researchers: Caterina Spinaris, Ph.D., and Mike Denhof, Ph.D.
• Online survey used the PTSD Check List—Civilian (PCL-C).
• Nationwide U.S. sample of correctional workers: N=720.
• Male: 68%, Female: 32%.
• Mean age: 45 years.
• Mean years of corrections service: 13.7 years.
• Workplaces during workers’ correctional career:
Prison—Medium 52.9%; Prison—Maximum 50.3%; County Jails 38.2%; Prison—Minimum 35.4%; Diagnostic/Reception Facility 12.6%; Juvenile Justice/Youth Corrections 9.4%; Probation & Parole 5.4%; Community Corrections 5.3%; Drug Court 1.1%; ICE 1.0%; Other 8.8%. (More than one choice was possible per respondent.)
• Percentage of sample who witnessed violence at work: 99.9%.
• Mean of violent workplace incidents witnessed: 30.6.
• Percentage of sample who experienced one or more physical assaults: 58.5%.
• Mean of physical assaults experienced: 1.7.
• 58.5% of sample met the Re-experiencing criteria of PTSD, 49.0% met the Avoidance/Numbing criteria, and 66.0% met the Physiological Arousal criteria.
• The three highest rated items on the PCL-C were: Being on guard, Sleep disturbances, and Anger/Irritability. All three are physiological arousal symptoms.
• Using the PTSD Check List-Civilian (PCL-C), 39% of sample met criteria on the PCL-C for full PTSD over the past six months.
• An additional 14% or 20% met criteria for partial PTSD (using two different methods).
• A total of 53% to 59%—over half of the sample—was found to suffer to some degree from full and partial PTSD symptoms, depending on scoring method used.
• The risk of meeting PTSD criteria increased by 41% for those exposed to 10 or more violent incidents.
• Males had significantly higher exposure rates to violence than females (both witnessing and experiencing), and also significantly higher PTSD rates.
• For males there was a statistically significant positive correlation between their test score on the PCL and number of violent incidents witnessed.
• Correctional workers’ reported emotional responses to violence:
Anger: 75.6%; Indifference/Hardness: 69.3%; Fear: 55%; Emotional Numbing: 46.4%; Powerlessness/Helplessness: 41.1%; Grief/Sadness: 35.4%; Horror: 18.9%. (More than one choice was possible per respondent.)

The six-month prevalence rate of PTSD found in this study is very high, and is linked to exposure to violence at work. Even though self-report measures can only be used to screen probable PTSD cases, and a PTSD diagnosis can only be made in a clinical setting, DWCO’s survey results indicate that PTSD symptoms are widespread in the corrections ranks. Staff functioning and consequently institution operations are very likely adversely affected. The prevalence of PTSD among correctional workers needs to be addressed and studied further.

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