|Domestic Violence Costs Corrections More Than Dollars|
|By Judith A. Yates|
The cost of domestic violence on the United States job market is staggering, both fiscally and physically. Every day in America, millions of people miss work because of domestic violence, costing employers time and money. It is an epidemic. In corrections, there are specific dynamics to abused, and abusers, working.
It is estimated 50% of women will be in an abusive relationship. 25% of those will cohabitate with their abuser. Estimates tell us four women are murdered a day by their partner. The world’s largest luxury cruise liner has 15 passenger decks and is as tall as two Statue of Liberties standing head to toe. You could fill this ship to capacity and sink it, every month for a year, and the number of people drowned would not equal the number of women seriously injured or killed by their partners in 6 months. This does not include the number of children abused in this society. In one study, 53% of respondents reported feeling their job performance was negatively affected by domestic violence (Vermont Council on Domestic Violence, 2011).
Both abused and abusers have low self-esteem and poor boundaries. Besides leaving physical marks, the abuser isolates the victim: where they go, whom they talk to. The abused is unable to have certain friends (or any friends) or be with family. The abuser will call the victim constantly, ‘checking’ on them, driving by their workplace. They control finances, behavior, and more. All of this is a ‘perfect storm’ for a corrections employee, because many do not see inmates as a ‘person.’ Or they see talking to an inmate as risk-free. Office gossip, complaining, or arguing on the phone where inmates are within earshot may seem harmless, but it is giving inmates ammunition.
Working in corrections, both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to inmates “playing the game.” Inmates read and watch body language and hear verbal exchanges to select a victim in an attempt to set up. Statistics tell us the majority of incarcerated individuals come from homes of abuse; they know exactly what to look for. When they do see the signs of abuse, or abuser, it gives them an edge. As Allen and Bosta (1981) note in their timeless book, Games Criminals Play, “Any trait possessed by an employee that inmates can construe as a weakness can result in that individual’s selection as a victim as a set-up” (p. 48). With an abused woman, an inmate may offer condolences, be over-protective, or even shower her with compliments and adoration. He may say, “Any man that hits a woman is not a real man,” then watch for a reaction. If an inmate knows an abuser is in his midst, he may put the employee in an ‘us versus them’ situation by saying things like, “Sometimes I got so angry, and no one understood me; I would hit people I love and didn’t mean it” and wait for reaction. All of the words are a ploy, a set-up. If the employee responds in a positive way, the inmate continues the game.
‘Ginger,’ an accountant in a federal prison, was an excellent worker: intelligent, punctual, levelheaded, and friendly. When she was dismissed for having sexual relationships with an inmate, the entire prison staff was shocked. But Ginger was an abused wife. An inmate orderly took advantage of the situation and began complimenting her low self-esteem. He told her how pretty she was, how she “did not deserve it,” how he “would never hit a woman.” Ginger, vulnerable and scared, fell into the game. She began confiding in him, then sharing part of her lunch, and then she fell in love. The ramifications of this are sobering. What if he would have asked her to bring in a weapon? What if the inmate was HIV positive? The prison industry lost an excellent employee, the industry’s name was marred, and security and safety was breached.
Inmates listen to everything that is said; it is imperative to leave personal life outside of work in this business. Because of the dynamics of domestic violence, this is difficult. Because an abused person is isolated from so many people, they may begin to confide in inmates. Prison institutions need to provide domestic violence prevention and education materials to employees on an ongoing basis and take the red flags of abuse seriously in an effort to prevent events, like Ginger’s story, from occurring. Partnership for Prevention estimates domestic violence costs business an estimated $4 billion dollars annually; in corrections; the cost can be measured in more than dollars.
Corrections.com author, Judith Yates, is a criminologist who has lectured on domestic violence prevention for over 20 years. A former Correctional Officer Specialist and trainer with the Bureau of Prisons, she is now a true crime writer and a trainer available for guest speaking engagements. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles by Judith A. Yates:
Vermont Study on DV link:
Partnership for Prevention link:
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