|Health and Wellness Issues and Programs|
|By Terry Campbell, Professor, Kaplan University, School of Public Safety|
In this article I will discuss officers’ health and wellness issues, and the Affordable Health Care Act and potential impact on corrections. Corrections cannot place a price tag on the safety and well-being of officers and staff. Our staff and officers are our most precious resource and investment. However, when wellness issues are discussed, some agencies do better than others in meeting officer safety and wellness concerns.
The majority of correctional agencies throughout our country are facing severe economical challenges and budget cuts. Yet, at the same time, the same level of service is expected to be delivered. Many of the budget cuts come in the form of layoffs, hiring freezes, and training cuts. Some additional ramifications from these budget cuts often result in less officers on shifts, lag time in response to incidents, lack of adequate back up, additional stress placed on officers, increase in incidents, inmate safety, impact on officer’s safety, wellness, and health.
Additional areas of concern that contribute to officers and staff physical well-being are; added stress from the job due to budget cuts; poor nutrition; either no exercise or limited exercise; post-traumatic stress; depression; increased use of alcohol and/or other substances; officer takes the stress home often resulting in conflict at home, and elsewhere. When these areas of concern surface they can be compounded at work and be the triggering mechanism for poor decision making. This can then contribute to the officer’s and others well-being concerning safety and security issues. We know all too well how volatile prisons can be. At the same time, the officers can let their attentiveness down and then be subject to a serious incident. At the same time, the areas of concern discussed previously are also recognized by the inmate population as potential weakness leading to security and safety breeches.
Officers need to engage in some type of exercise to improve their overall physical and mental attitude. Many statistics for officer exercise reflect an improvement in many previously diagnosed health conditions. At the same time, a healthy officer is likely to improve work performance and this equates to improved institutional safety and security.
We often do not discuss our physical well-being and appearance. This also contributes to the image we project to the inmate population. This, along with a positive attitude, reflects an improved level of professionalism. Unfortunately, all of us have worked with some officers who were so out-of-shape, they were unable to respond at a level necessary to support others as back up, they can become safety and security concerns.
Our own well-being is necessary when responding to an incident and to be prepared to take the necessary action to breakup an incident. Being out-of-shape does no good when an officer arrives on scene breathing heavy and cannot assist. These officers are tired, may be unsure how to respond, stressed and may be facing failure. When all of this adds up, the end result is disciplinary action.
When we went through the recruitment and hiring phase, we understood the prison setting and potential security threats. However, officers expect to be properly trained to be correctional officers and work in a safe and secure environment. The leadership and management of the prison administrations need to reinforce a safe work environment and ensure all officers and staff are properly trained to respond to incidents. They should advise all personnel the importance of mental and physical wellness.
Administration needs to be proactive and communicate with all personnel when budget reductions are forthcoming and what areas will be streamlined. By doing this, administration will slow-down the grapevine and ensure accurate and updated information is distributed. As mentioned previously, a prison has an investment in personnel and must support them. This includes developing strategies to minimize potential safety risks to personnel.
Ongoing training is a priority to ensure personnel receive updated training and are allowed to practice techniques learned. At the same time, administration needs to support and get the message out to encourage healthy nutrition and personnel to exercise, and stress the importance of safety and security issues. This is a joint venture and will be beneficial to all. An additional area of concern and one that must relayed is, the use of performance enhancing drugs is not acceptable and can be dangerous.
The remaining area focuses on officers’ healthcare and the Affordable Health Care Act. Officers’ well-being is also important with employer health plans. Some plans require a proactive approach by the officer to receive a reduced healthcare premium. Otherwise, this can result in a higher premium. You can check with your employer to see if this is applicable.
Something you may or may not be aware of is the Affordable Health Care Act and effects on prison inmates. “As one of the largest catchment areas for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders, infectious diseases, and chronic health conditions, the criminal justice system should be informed and integrated into state healthcare reform planning and implantation effort. (CSG, 2011). (The Affordable Care Act and Criminal Justice Intersections and Implications, Andrea A. Bainbridge, Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, July 2012).
"At least 50 percent of the [prison] population has symptoms of mental health disorders," said Brad Brockmann, executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University. "With Medicaid expansion, we have an incredible opportunity to take care of the very neediest, the very poorest while freeing up huge amounts of money within the states through not having to provide that care in correctional settings." Needless to say, this is an area you will want to monitor and watch for any additional information pertaining to this important topic.
Corrections.com author, Terry Campbell, is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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