Titled CCWORK: A Longitudinal Study of Canadian Correctional Workers’ Well-being, Organizations, Roles and Knowledge, this project explores how correctional work shapes the well-being of correctional officers in Canadian federal prisons. As a multi-year longitudinal project, CCWORK collect data from officers when they are recruited by Correctional Service Canada and yearly thereafter. CCWORK is also a mix-method project, relying on both qualitative and quantitative data collection strategies (e.g., surveys, interviews, and clinical assessments). Inspired by appreciative inquiry, researchers identify the stressors that can compromise the correctional officer’s occupational health and safety. Researchers also analyse how officers resist and cope with stressors that mark correctional work and their consequences (e.g., mental health disorders). Practically, they focus on identifying and analyzing the factors that make officers vulnerable on the job (i.e., risk factors) and the strategies they use to stay safe at work (i.e., protective factors). The team seeks to answer the following three research questions:
- How does self-reported CO mental health (e.g., self-reported interpretations of mental wellness, coping abilities, support systems and use) and mental health knowledge change from training (baseline) throughout the CO career (follow-up waves)?
- What contextual factors (i.e., the physical realities of carceral work; safety, legal, emotional, and physical vulnerabilities within the prison workspace; operational and organizational stressors; personal experiences such as potentially psychologically traumatic event exposure over time in prison spaces, diagnoses, and treatment for mental disorders) shape CO perceptions of mental health?
- How does clinically assessed CO mental health change from recruit training (baseline) over time as COs experience stages of the profession (follow-up waves)?
Interview with the Team
Are there any additional questions or challenges that your research might help to address?
CCWORK aims to help improve the conditions of correctional work in Canada and the overall occupational well-being of correctional officers by identifying stressors within correctional work and proposing changes. Correctional workers, like other public safety personnel, are especially vulnerable to Operational Stress Injuries (OSIs), which include a broad array of symptoms following exposure to one or more potentially psychologically traumatic events while at work. Such symptoms include, among others, posttraumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and substance use disorders. Based on well-documented research, about half of correctional officers in Canada report symptoms of a mental disorder.
What is exciting about your work for the PSP community? For example, how will your results help PSP frontline workers? PSP families? PSP leaders?
The PSP community represents our main target audience and the primary reason for CCWORK to exist. Our results can help frontline correctional workers gain systematic knowledge on the stressors that characterise correctional work. Our results also include practical suggestions to improve work conditions within correctional services. Essentially, frontline correctional workers can use the knowledge that our research project creates to revise operational procedures and policies considering the imperative need to improve the well-being of correctional officers. For instance, some of our results provide detailed information on the following topics, which can assist and improve the quality of recruitment protocols, training, and mental health support programs available to officers and their families:
- Factors motiving correctional officers to join correctional services.
- Most common perceived risks within correctional work from the perspective of recruits.
- Opportunities to improve the Engagement and Intervention Model (EIM) used by Correctional Service Canada to train recruits on the use of force.
- Occupational fitness, particularly the attributes that officers deem important in a “good officer.”
- Usability of the programs offered by Canada Correctional Service to correctional workers such as the Employment Assistance Program and Critical Incident Stress Management, as well as how correctional officers view such programs.
When do you expect to have results to share with the PSP community?
We have already been sharing partial results with the community. Since we began CCWORK, we published a dozen articles on the topics below and a position paper advocating for the Memorial Grant for First Responders to be extended to correctional work, which happened in December 2021. The Memorial Grant Program provides a one-time lump sum, tax-free maximum payment of $300,000 to the families of first responders who have died because of their duties. We also have delivered numerous presentations to several groups within the PSP community since the beginning of CCWORK, which we intend to continue doing so in the years to come.
- How correctional officers view transgender colleagues and prisoners.
- Correctional officers’ views of AMStrength, a cognitive-based program that helps correctional officers prevent stress and mental health disorders.
- Fear of infectious diseases, including its root causes, and strategies that correctional officers use to mitigate perceived risks and contagion.
- Correctional officers’ understanding occupational fitness and the qualities that “good officers” should have to deliver their duties and responsibilities.
- Correctional officers’ views of the mental health support programs.
- Potentially psychologically trauma event exposure and mental health.
- The legal-institutional training that correctional recruits receive to deal with discretionary power.
- Correctional officer recruits’ motivation to pursue a correctional career.
- Federal correctional training group dynamics.
- Correctional officer recruit’s perceptions of occupational risks.
- Research reflexivity (i.e., self-reflection on research processes).
- CCWORK’s research protocols and practices.
Where can PSP learn more about your study?
Is there anything else you would like to share with the PSP community about your research?
We would like to share some of the strengths and limitations of our project:
- Our study is the most comprehensive mix-method longitudinal, multi-cohort research with correctional officers in Canada, including detailed/in-depth qualitative and quantitative data collection instruments.
- We further aim to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being of correctional officers in Canada.
- Our data collection processes have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
- Our findings are based on self-reported data and thus subjected to participant bias.
- Our eligibility criteria include only participants (i.e., correctional officers) working in Canada’s federal prison system.
Rose Ricciardeli, principal investigator, Professor of Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
CCWORK works with a multidisciplinary team that includes established scholars in Canada, France, the US, and the UK, Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Trainees (Graduate Students), a Project Coordinator, and a Data Management Analyst.