Mental and physical toll of work on America’s Correctional Officers

This is hardly news to Correctional Officers, but the occupational stress of working in prisons reduces life expectancy, increases heart disease, and manifests itself in higher rates of alcoholism and divorce rates. 

Below you’ll find links and excerpts of articles detailing the consequences of job stress in Correctional Officers. 


“Reducing Staff and Inmate Stress,” National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Oct. 1982

A recent study of the consequences of job stress in correctional officers revealed that the life expectancy of a correctional officer is 59 years, compared to 75 years for the national average. Stress, as manifested in many physical illnesses including hypertension, heart attacks, and ulcers, was found to be higher than that of a comparable sample of police officers. Moreover, alcoholism and divorce rates are higher for correctional officers than for the population in general.

As a result, correctional organizations spend enormous sums annually for sick leave, compensation, and liability claims. Stress among correctional officers and administrators is often caused by the conflicting goals of custody and rehabilitation, trial and error in management, and the correctional system’s vulnerability to political and community groups.

In response to the problem, the New Jersey Department of Corrections has developed a number of correctional officer programs geared to reducing stress; families of officers participate in the programs. The nature of stress and burnout, their physical and social consequences, and positive and negative coping techniques are explored. Coping methods such as relaxation, desensitization, and self-image improvement are presented at these sessions. Correctional officers are taught to remain calm in the face of conflict, communicate their point of view, and consider possible solutions and consequences of a given situation. Similar sessions are offered for inmates. Twenty references are provided.

Prison Officers Need Help, but They Won’t Ask for It,” Newsweek, May 2014

According to a study by professors Steven Stack and Olga Tsoudis of Wayne State University, the risk of suicide is 39 percent higher for [corrections officers] than in all other professions combined. A 2009 study by the New Jersey Police Suicide Task Force found that corrections officers had double the suicide rate of police officers.

Other studies have found reduced life expectancy, which is linked to stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and ulcers.

“You are in a constant state of fight or flight,” says Brian Dawe, a former corrections officer in Massachusetts and co-founder of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network.

Prison horrors haunt guards’ private lives,” Denver Post, March 2007

Prisoners fling bodily waste and attack without warning. Psychotic outbursts fill halls with howls. A man who upset the wrong clique ended up with a pencil driven though his ear.

Yet for correctional officers, getting mad isn’t allowed.

Now these men and women, who face growing numbers of inmates in some of the nation’s toughest federal and state prisons, say they’re increasingly overwhelmed.

They harden themselves to survive inside prison, guards said in recent interviews. Then they find they can’t snap out of it at the end of the day.

Some seethe to themselves. Others commit suicide. Depression, alcoholism, domestic violence and heart attacks are common. And entire communities suffer.

Did you like this? Share it:

Comments about Mental and physical toll of work on America’s Correctional Officers are welcome. Off-topic comments and other violations of our community guidelines may be withheld or removed. Comments do not appear immediately after posting.

Leave a Reply