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Corrections Fatigue & Corrections Fulfillment — In A Nutshell
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 07/11/2016

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Reprinted with permission from the June 2016 issue of Correctional Oasis

Corrections Fatigue

Corrections Fatigue is a term I coined in the year 2000. Corrections Fatigue is a broad “umbrella” term that aims to capture the combined and snowballing effects of repeated exposure to an array of occupational stressors that are essentially unavoidable in corrections work settings. Here is the latest definition:

Corrections Fatigue is the cumulative negative change over time of corrections professionals’ PERSONALITY, HEALTH and FUNCTIONING, and of the CORRECTIONS WORKFORCE CULTURE, as a result of insufficient and/or unhealthy individual and/or organizational coping strategies and/or wellness resources necessary for healthy adaptation to the demands of corrections work.

Said more simply, Corrections Fatigue is the gradual and progressive wear-and-tear of body, soul and spirit of staff as they repeatedly experience high stress workplace events of various types during the course of their careers. Corrections Fatigue affects individuals, teams, and eventually even the entire workforce culture of corrections institutions and offices.

Negative changes characteristic of Corrections Fatigue may interact, resulting in self-reinforcing consequences—the proverbial “vicious cycle”—with effects/outcomes of Corrections Fatigue becoming causes/sources of additional Corrections Fatigue impinging upon the corrections workforce.

When corrections workplace cultures become unhealthy as a result of sufficient numbers of individual staff being affected in this manner, then counterproductive values, core beliefs, thinking patterns, and behaviors become the norm. Staff in these workforce cultures may even become resigned to working under such conditions, accepting them as “the way we do things in corrections.”

The impact of Corrections Fatigue exists on continuum of severity from non-existent or mild to extreme. Corrections Fatigue is NOT a clinical term. It is not a disease, although at the more severe end of the spectrum, staff who display Corrections Fatigue signs may be suffering from health conditions.

The workplace stressors that affect the development and progression of Corrections Fatigue can be conceptualized as falling in three broad categories: (a) operational (related to operations, such as staffing, shift work, work load, and certain policies and procedures); (b) organizational (related to the workplace culture and managing people—whether employees or offenders, such as interpersonal conflict, and certain management practices and leadership styles); and (c) traumatic (related to exposure to incidents of violence, injury and death, whether directly or indirectly).

Stressors related to staff’s personal lives, perhaps preceding their corrections career, may additionally constitute areas of vulnerability and risk that interact with workplace stressors.

To measure Corrections Fatigue in a quantitative way for groups of staff, Desert Waters’ researchers constructed the Corrections Fatigue Status Assessment, a psychometrically sound assessment instrument, now in its fifth iteration (CFSA-v5; Denhof and Spinaris, 2014). According to the CFSA-v5, Corrections Fatigue affects nine distinct but related dimensions of functioning of the corrections workforce. These are, in alphabetical order: Behavioral Functioning, Leadership Supportiveness, Meaning, Moral Injury, Morale, Outlook/Disposition, Psychological Safety, Staff Reliability, and Staff Supportiveness. And as was stated earlier, when these areas are negatively impacted, they in turn become the source of further Corrections Fatigue for a workforce.

As shown through the CFSA-v5[1] and through other studies[2], research supports the notion that a broad spectrum of consequences of Corrections Fatigue exist in varying degrees in the corrections workforce, in both institution and community corrections environments. These consequences must be increasingly acknowledged, studied, and under-stood. When they are minimized or overlooked, they end up permeating and shaping the workplace culture in lasting negative ways, culminating in reduced staff wellness, substance abuse, decreased job performance, employee misconduct, absenteeism, high turnover, and increased staff suicide risk.

Corrections Fulfillment

Corrections Fulfillment is a term I coined in 2006, to describe the combined outcomes of healthy professional and personal practices of corrections staff and of healthy corrections work-place cultures. Here is the latest definition:

Corrections Fulfillment is the cumulative result of corrections professionals’ EFFECTIVE COPING STRATEGIES and WORK ENGAGEMENT, and the POSITIVE QUALITY of the corrections workforce culture.

And as effects of Corrections Fatigue become causes of more negative outcomes, similarly, Corrections Fulfillment has a positive snowball effect as well. Increases in Corrections Fulfillment permeate workforce cultures, creating a positive and supportive workforce climate where resilience-promoting behaviors are practiced, shared, and modeled. This facilitates the personal growth and professional development of corrections professionals, which in turn can promote more Fulfillment.

Corrections Fulfillment starts with a reduction in negative changes associated with Corrections Fatigue. It then moves to increased resilience (the capacity to bounce back after negative experiences), increased well-being, and increased job satisfaction. And at the peak of Fulfillment, staff may experience Post-traumatic Growth, their development as people and as professionals after facing traumatic events. Post-traumatic growth may involve, among other types of transformation, an increased appreciation for relationships, deepening spirituality, increased capacity for compassion, and increased gratitude for and appreciation of life.

Reduction and prevention of Corrections Fatigue and the promotion of Corrections Fulfillment require persistent, multi-faceted, and system-wide improvement programs that target change at both the organizational level (“top down”) and the individual staff level (“bottom up”).

Such improvement efforts encourage and model sound core beliefs and values, positive styles of staff interaction with both other staff and with offenders, and health-promoting self-care practices. They include the provision of affordable and effective wellness resources, ongoing staff wellness assessments, and education on a regular basis on data-driven resilience-promoting strategies and wellness-promoting behaviors. The aim of these interventions is to increase understanding of strategies that can reduce Corrections Fatigue, and implement ways to attain and maintain Corrections Fulfillment across an agency—staff well-being, work engagement, and quality of life.

We at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach are dedicated to continue to develop evidence-based educational materials and interventions for corrections professionals and their families. The overall well-being and functioning of corrections staff both at work and in their personal lives is our goal.

[1] Denhof, M.D., & Spinaris, C.G. (2014a). Corrections Fatigue Status Assessment—version 5 http://desertwaters.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CFSA_V4_Data_Sheet.pdf.
[2] Denhof, M.D., & Spinaris, C.G. (2014b). The Violence Injury and Death Exposure Scale (VIDES) http://desertwaters.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/VIDES_Data_Sheet.pdf.

Editor's note: Caterina Spinaris is the Executive Director at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. She continues to contribute to the field of corrections staff well-being individually and organizationally, in particularly regarding issues of traumatic stress due to exposure to violence, injury, death on the job, and also issues of organizational climate improvement.

Visit the Caterina Spinaris page

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