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Health & Wellness
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 04/27/2015

Man and sunrise You selected a career where physical, emotional, and mental conditioning are important. This is reflective of your decision making skills. You will be working in an environment where many people would not be able to work based on the dangers of working in corrections and the career itself. Many of you had to take a test to complete the hiring process and attended a training academy. Some officers are able to maintain a level of conditioning while others have let the years go by and suddenly recognize they are not the same people they were when hired. As you know, corrections staff wear many hats during their daily duties. This may include security, problem solving skills, rehabilitative approach, and other. Let’s face it, you have to maintain a certain level of physical and mental health to deal with the various job requirements and, at times, a very difficult corrections population. You are expected to perform your duties in a challenging workplace environment well, and yet receive very little recognition. At the same time, you are required to balance family and other outside obligations while still doing your job and avoiding burn-out.

I provided a list of variables I would like for you to review and see if any of these are part of your daily life. Note, this list is not exhaustive.
  • Stress
  • Way we always did it attitude
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD)
  • Signs of depression
  • Anger control issues
  • Restless sleep
  • Substance abuse
  • Family disruptions
  • End of your shift, feel emotionally drained
  • Increased sick leave
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Lack administrative support
  • Shift work and long hours
  • Traumatic exposure to violence
If you identified one or more areas, now is the time to seek assistance. Some lifestyle changes are necessary in your life immediately. Your agency should provide access to a variety of employee assistance programs. If not, there are many programs available in your community. Some agencies do a better job of providing different services than other agencies. We cannot ignore our role in performing our duties and other support activities while maintaining safety and security. If we are not on our game, this can become hazardous to you, inmates, and officers.

If you feel disconnected in work and other relationships, your body is trying to tell you something. Be aware of these early warning signs and begin to make some lifestyle changes. A difficult task for many is the so-called ‘macho’ image officers have and now must admit and come to grip with the following; no matter how tough you are you will experience health and well-being issues. Take the first step and you will begin to feel relief from within. Many agencies provide adequate health and dental insurance options. Some facilities are lacking in this area. If support is not in place at your agency, this should not prevent you from seeking assistance.

When was your last physical? Did you follow any recommendations and/or use of prescriptions? If on medications prescribed by a physician, did you notify your agency? Are you working out several times a week? Avoid any distractions and negative thoughts that may prohibit you from exercising; example: Costs to join a gym. Come on, you can easily begin by walking and establish some work out goals. These physical activities can even be merged into family and fun activities. Have you ever considered your physical well-being and attitude are observed by others, and this includes the inmates? You can be sure inmates know which officers are in shape and which ones are not going to be able to provide assistance. Complete a self-evaluation and be honest with yourself. Today is a new day and one where you can overcome the many obstacles faced in corrections with a sound body and mind.

I know all of you have access to the internet and are capable of doing research on this topic. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has available for free, access to a videoconference held June 16, 2004 titled “Correctional Staff Wellness: Making Choices Toward a Higher Level of Total Health and Well Being.” Take advantage of this and review the materials, ideas, and statistics. The statistics were an eye opener with a large percentage of officers being out-of-shape. You can also check with your agency and see if they offer any health tips and advice. This may include completing a physical, self-assessment, and completion of forms by a specific date. By completing these tasks for your agency, it may result in less insurance premiums you have to pay. This results in extra money in your pocket and a significant savings. Check also with some of your officers and see if any of them are interested in participating in physical activities as a group, or you may prefer to do your thing. Whichever, do not make excuses and begin taking those proactive steps to improve your overall physical and mental capabilities.

The successful intervention and change will only be effective when you admit you have some wellness and health issues. If allowed to linger and no changes are in the work, then you are becoming a liability at work and home. You have worked too many years to not recognize this. During your career you observed other staff experiencing many of these concerns. Now is the time to make a positive change and begin a new day.

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 tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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