Why was the study done?
National studies of correctional workers in Canada have shown that over half of correctional workers report symptoms consistent with having a mental health disorder. This rate is significantly higher than the 10.1% seen in the general population. Correctional staff may work in a variety of environments. Those that work in prisons (or the community) face unique physical, mental, and environmental challenges. While research has explored the prevalence of mental health issues, researchers have not studied correctional staff’s concerns or the barriers they may face in seeking care and treatment.
The current study focuses on exploring the perspectives of employees in the Ontario correctional service.
What was done in the study?
The data examined in this study was part of a larger survey on the mental health and well-being of correctional services in Ontario. Researchers reviewed the answers of 67 participants who completed the open-ended question “If you have any additional information you would like to provide or additional feedback, please feel free to do so below.” The responses were analyzed using a thematic inductive process, which allowed the researchers to code responses into emergent themes.
What did we find out?
Participants reported several concerns:
- The impact of correctional work on mental health continues to be under-recognized.
- Participants felt they had less access to care and freedom from abuse than criminalized persons.
- Correctional staff need to be more aware of the state of their mental health.
- There is a lack of supports and time for self-care to cope with job stress.
- There are differences between how full-time and casual staff are treated. These differences create unfair hierarchies and affecting morale.
- Current wages and benefits do not reflect the emotional, physical, and verbal abuse they face in the work environment.
Participants also noted several barriers in employees getting treatment:
- A lack of sufficient benefits for full-time employees;
- Casual employees have no benefits, vacation, or stability in shift assignments;
- A lack of accommodation by the employer for time to seek treatment;
- The stigma of having mental health issues.
Where do we go from here?
The employees surveyed were a small sample from Ontario, which makes it difficult to generalize the results. However, the participants do make some suggestions that may help improve employment conditions for correctional workers more broadly. The participants have suggested more training opportunities, regular mental health check-ins (at least annually) that would allow assessment of changes to their mental health, offsite assessment for confidentially, and increased team-building opportunities. The majority of employees surveyed expressed hope that positive changes would come from their employer in the future. The concerns and suggestions voiced by the participants in the study provide pathways for future research and policy development. By working with employees, researchers and employers can provide the positive change that correctional workers believe is possible.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R.N., Gacek, J., & Groll, D. L. (2020). Understanding needs, breaking down barriers: Examining mental health challenges and well-being of correctional staff in Ontario, Canada. Frontiers in Psychology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01036
Summary Prepared by Kossick, E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B. & Ricciardelli, R.