|Correctional Officers – Recruiting for Resiliency & Wellness|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
We read about it in the media every day. Today there seems to be a widespread problem going around of correctional officers committing more acts of suicides or attempted suicides, domestic violence, addictions to alcohol or drug substances as well as a sharp rise in misconduct.
The trend has to be addressed as suicides are on the rise giving indications that the problems are deep rooted and in dire need to be solved. Agencies cannot afford to continue to allow this path to continue or grow as correctional officers are the last line in our defense of the criminal justice system as it is designed. Hence the answer maybe in the way we recruit and select potential candidates for the job of being a correctional officer. Although this is not about the headlines and more about stabilizing the trend of good cops going bad [due to lack of internal support or treatment opportunities], there are ways how correctional agencies can handle this dire need and maintain an edge on the way they hire new people into the profession. There have been numerous studies already completed that there are main contributing factors that impact the officer’s ability to withstand the stressors of the job and maintain a healthy balance between wellness and performance.
Agencies must not just focus on physical abilities and fitness but also on the soundness of the mindset and the ability to cope with complex stress and difficult problems that impact personal behaviors or temptations as well as psychological pitfalls. There are many mandatory job requirements that are impacted if the person hired is not of sound mind and body. The consequences can lead to loss of life or long term impairment or disabilities on the part of the officers. Not limited to wellness of self this may also reduce workplace violence or bullying.
Agencies first need to take into consideration what has already been determined to be detrimental to resilience and wellness on the job. They need to include stress tests that detect the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and determine what level these applicants are and whether they are within the acceptable range or in the critical range that requires pre-empted treatment programs before being eligible for such stressful jobs.
Although this is a theory based statement it should include evidence based studies that indicate the continuum of PTSD does impact the job and the ability to cope and function successfully on or off the job. Treatment should be focused on those that have indicators of long term treatment needs and focus on their individual attributes that may impair such employment duties and responsibilities.
A deferment of hiring could in fact include a voluntary treatment program to attend such treatment program with a progress report that would allow the hire to take place when the applicant has reached a pre-determined point in the program. Those already on board should be offered employee assistance services in a competent and confidential manner to avoid the stigma of being a weak person as well as embarrassment or humiliation issues.
Secondly, there should be a screening process for identifying mental disorders and provide a history of family and personal behaviors that may pose a risk if the officer is armed or placed in an extremely dangerous or critical position e.g. tower duty, transports, armed response teams, fugitive recovery units etc. Realizing these things are personal and protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) recruitment personnel should exercise caution not to violate this law.
Third but not the least is addressing the major risk factor of being under the addiction of prescription drugs and alcohol. This is often a pre-existing condition that is never addressed and should be done to avoid a re-lapse or fall-out of any prior problems with such issues.
Certainly not suggesting any kind of discriminating behaviors against potential applicants the rationale for such procedures is well established. Traditionally many persons that apply for the job in corrections field are often filled with strong recruitment efforts from the military and hire ex-veterans as well as college and high school graduates. Treatment programs are available through the Veterans Administration and other community based clinics funded by the government to address PTSD and other chronic wellness issues.
Focusing on the mental health wellness, the resilience factor of coping on or off the job and the clearness of body and mind of controlled substances or alcohol will enhance the quality of life for those working within the profession and make a significant improvement in survival from suicides, mental illness psychosis and drug use / alcoholism that leads to other problems in their lives.
Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."
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