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Conclusions from DWCO’s 2010 & 2011 National Surveys
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 10/31/2011

Survey computer In 2010 DWCO conducted a pilot online survey measuring PTSD rates in the corrections ranks. Results showed that 39% of our sample met criteria for PTSD for symptoms experienced over the past six months. An additional 14% or 20% (depending on the measuring method used) met criteria for partial PTSD. Male staff had significantly higher exposure rates to violence at work than female staff, and also significantly higher PTSD rates. For males there was also a statistically significant positive correlation between their PTSD test score and number of violent incidents witnessed.

In 2011 we launched a second anonymous online survey to replicate and expand the results of the 2010 study. This time we asked additional questions about health, mood, impact on functioning in several key areas, and satisfaction with life. PTSD rates were assessed for symptoms experienced during the prior month.

Our results, based on a very large nationwide sample, indicated that the PTSD rate for those who met criteria for PTSD and had also been exposed to violence, injury or death at work (VID)—the PTSD Group—was very high, and significantly more so for security staff and for male staff. (Results are not presented here in detail as the study will be submitted for publication to a peer-reviewed journal.) PTSD scores increased with exposure to VID experiences. The PTSD Group reported significantly more VID incidents and more types of VID, more sick days, more worker compensation days, more chronic illnesses, more doctor visits, and higher alcohol and tobacco consumption than the No PTSD Group. The PTSD Group also had significantly higher Depression, Anxiety and Stress scores and significantly lower life satisfaction scores. Additionally, compared to the No PTSD Group, the PTSD Group reported significantly more negative impact on functioning due to the corrections environment in the areas of work performance, personal relationships, ability to enjoy leisure time, caring for dependents, and carrying out personal responsibilities. Reported impact on functioning increased with PTSD scores.

The findings support and confirm the conclusion that PTSD and its consequences occur at an unusually high rate in correctional work environments. Sample data support the view that repeated exposure to potentially traumatic workplace events contributes to the development of clinically significant symptoms for many corrections professionals.

Corrections professionals stand to benefit greatly from interventions and training programs designed to help provide them with the knowledge, coping skills, and strategies that can serve as long term “protective factors” (i.e., things workers can do to buffer the consequences of repeated exposure to potentially traumatic work-setting events). The findings of this study specifically confirm that corrections professionals suffer elevated symptoms of PTSD and co-occurring issues such as depressed mood and anxiety. It is important for corrections organizations to recognize that negative emotions due to PTSD and depression can have a contagion-like effect, spreading throughout the work environment from one employee to the next. In addition, the suicide rate of corrections professionals has been found in prior studies to far exceed national averages. As a result, failure to make adequate efforts to address the unique health needs of correctional professionals can be gravely consequential.

Findings from this study reinforce the perspective that corrections professionals with elevated PTSD symptoms also suffer from multiple negative health conditions, and experience a significant detrimental impact upon their occupational, personal and social functioning, and on their sense of satisfaction with life.

The financial consequences of elevated PTSD rates are noteworthy for corrections organizations. The evidence indicates that PTSD symptoms and co-occurring clinical issues for corrections professionals, including depressed mood, figure prominently into increased sick days (typically requiring high rate overtime pay), doctor visits, and increased use of tobacco and alcohol, all of which contribute directly and indirectly to elevated organizational costs. In light of these realities, investment in systemic occupational coping skills trainings, staff support and intervention programs, such as those offered by DWCO, would result in not only health benefits but also substantial economic benefits. Effective intervention and training programs can reduce strained budget concerns, promote organizational excellence and credibility, maintain accreditation statuses and compliance with state-mandated practices, improve audit results, and reduce suicide rates and potential health-related lawsuits.

DWCO can, upon request, provide assessments and estimates of organizational financial savings associated with implementation of a customized occupational coping skills training and intervention programs. Our highly credentialed clinician-researchers use a combination of clinical experience, published literature review, and cutting edge predictive analytic statistical techniques to forecast organizational cost savings and organization-wide health and functioning gains—particularly in relation to the consequences of elevated PTSD rates in the work environment.

Corrections.com author, Caterina Spinaris Tudor, is the Executive Director of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach (DWCO) and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. The mission of DWCO is to increase the occupational, personal, and family well-being of staff of all disciplines within the corrections profession.

Visit the Caterina Tudor page

Other articles by Tudor:


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