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Wellness in Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 01/22/2018

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Hello and Happy New Year! Our topic for this month is Wellness and Health Issues. I am sure many of our colleagues made their News Year’s resolutions. The next question becomes how many are still abiding by their resolutions. Also, the media reports one of the top resolutions is health changes. Regardless if you made this resolution or not, now is the time to do a health assessment. Way too many corrections personnel face daily health issues and, unfortunately, many are not doing much to improve their health.

Corrections staff continues to suffer from stress and some are physically out of shape. There are many reasons for this, and I will identify some from my own experiences. Many systems do not have adequate staff available. The inmate to officer ratio is dismal in many instances. This can lead to additional stress and creates additional security concerns. Many officers work a double-shift, become involved in physical altercations, work in very dangerous units, more is demanded of them from administration, and expectations are to continue at current pace with no relief down the road, and other. Then we wonder why we begin to experience high absenteeism, staff departing without notice, staff facing family issues and often this carries over to the work place. Many suffer from depression, turn to alcohol and drug use, see many types of violence, lack support, have no one to talk to, dealing with the mental health offenders, trying to supervise and control for gangs, contraband, and other related areas. Unfortunately when we compound this, many staff are already in a downward spiral. We wind up with staff who are at the breaking point, not capable of performing their duties, feeling like they are not supported by administration, or leaving the job.

Let’s face it, corrections provides many daily challenges and this is not a profession for all. An officer’s alertness and instincts begin to suffer. As mentioned earlier, this leads to additional safety and security concerns. At the same time, the inmate population is aware of this and some offenders go out of their way to try and push the officer’s button. All in an attempt to create havoc and cause the officer to respond negatively. This often leads to litigation ot additional legal issues.

Unfortunately, corrections spends a tremendous amount of money on the offenders and at the same time, any additional resources for officers are not available. Society recognizes the role corrections plays and also the dangers of the job. This, as well as other areas previously discussed, result in recruitment difficulties. This then leads to additional safety and security concerns.

I was conducting some research and came across a fairly recent article I wanted to share. If you have already read the article or if this is the first time to hear about the article, please take time to review. This article was NIJ supported and can be found at: National Institute of Justice, “Correctional Officer Safety and Wellness: What we Learned from the Research Literature,” July 24, 2017. NIJ.gov://https://nij.gov/topics/corections/institutional/pages/correctional-officer-safety-wellness.aspx

“According to the authors, in general, the health and safety concerns of correctional officers have been largely neglected by correctional researchers, administrative officials, and prison systems. This is a crucial area of focus given the important role that officers play in maintaining order in correctional facilities.” After reading the article I was excited to see that many of the areas I identified previously were prevalent across the country and supported by this research. This current research is going to result in additional research and hopefully improvements for all corrections staff.

One last area I want to include from the research is: “The authors state that improvement of correctional officer health starts by changing the mindset of administrative officials and other stakeholders in the correctional field.” One area relatively easy to begin to change is to ensure there is effective communication at all levels.

Take time to follow up on your health and begin to make changes. Are you eating healthy? Are you overeating or missing meals? When was the last time you had a physical? Are you on any medications and following your doctors instructions? When you are home and able to, do you have family meals and are you communicating with your family, or head to the refrigerator and then the recliner? As you can see some will recognize these situations.

We also recognize we have aged and cannot do the same things we used to when younger. Are you committed to regular exercise? If so, what does this consist of? Take the next step and start walking. Do a little at a time and as your endurance builds, you can increase your distance and pace. Remember to be mindful of any medicines and recommendations from your doctor. One of the most difficult tasks we face will be to take the next step and begin to improve our health. Previously I mentioned the inmates watching us on a daily basis. When the inmates recognize you are not stressed, getting back in shape, many will be less likely to try and push your button. Amazing what a little exercise and lifestyle changes can bring.

Check with your department and make sure you are aware of any assistance available. This may be counseling, access to gym memberships, ways to improve your health, does your insurance provide additional information for these areas. Can you pair up with someone from work or friends to begin exercising? I was active in running and as I aged, I found my knees would not hold up. After several knee scopes on both knees, my physician advised I need to take up bicycling and/or walking. I have been doing this and feel better. Even with some additional health concerns, I am able to continue exercising. Some days are better than others, yet on days I feel good I continue my walking. Please take the initiative to make some life style changes and being to exercise. Also, take some time to read the article I mentioned.

Stay safe out there.

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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