Correctional Contradictions: A Structural Approach to Addressing Officer Burnout

By Tracy, Sarah J. | Corrections Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Correctional Contradictions: A Structural Approach to Addressing Officer Burnout


Tracy, Sarah J., Corrections Today


"Are there any more questions?" asks the jail captain during a correctional officer traming session. There is silence. Then, finally: "No questions because we're so satisfied," is the response.

"Come on," replies the captain. "No questions?" Another officer mumbles, "I'm keeping busy back here. I find my questions get me into trouble."

This was just one of many exchanges observed during an 11-month research project (May 1999 through March 2000), during which time in-depth ethnographic research tracing issues of burnout and stress among correctional officers was conducted. The study included interaction with 109 correctional staff employed at a county mixed-gender jail, "Nouveau Jail," and a state women's prison. "Women's Minimum," (both pseudonyms). Officers were shadowed as they worked, training documents were examined and 22 recorded interviews were conducted with correctional employees.

The following quotations illustrate some of the more problematic mentalities found among some correctional officers, namely withdrawal and detachment, literalism and paranoia--central manifestations of organizational burnout.

"They want someone who's like a robot.... If in the rule book, there's a Y. you either go left or right.... The person, that doesn't know how to get there is the person that they want because ... if you don't know what it is, look it up. It's right there. What do I do? It tells you what to do in every situation so there's no room for you to think," according to one correctional officer who was interviewed.

"I guess I grew hard and cold about a lot of things. The biggest thing that doesn't affect me is injuries and death. I just don't have the same feelings I used to have," said another correctional officer.

"I find myself fighting to not be so paranoid. I'll go to the store. I'll go to Kmart or Target ... and I'll look at somebody and you'll think, he looks like an inmate. I have no idea where it comes from ... and I don't even know if I'm right," explained a third correctional officer.

Beyond an Individualized Approach to Burnout

The idea that officers experience stress and burnout is nothing new. Criminal justice research paints a picture of correctional officers as hardened, cynical, stressed, ritualistic and alienated. These problems have been linked to high levels of turnover, job dissatisfaction, psychological distress and a life expectancy of 59 years, according to Stress Management for Correctional Officers and Their Families, by Frances E. Cheek.

While many correctional facilities have increasingly realized and attended to these issues, burnout and stress are often treated as problems that correctional officers can and should deal with on their own. As such, employees are usually trained to identify personal stressors and address them using tactics such as biofeedback, meditation and relaxation techniques. And when employees are considered too stressed to do their work effectively, they are referred to employee assistance programs to work out their emotional difficulties behind the scenes. In other words, programs regularly focus on stress and burnout as an individual pathology. This organizational practice is problematic for/three central reasons.

First, while individualistic stress interventions may assist with personal coping, they gloss the working patterns that contribute to and define stress. Second, individual remedies such as meditation and muscle relaxation do more to reactively focus on the symptoms of stress rather than to proactively tackle the job stressors themselves. Third, due to the private, separated nature of employee assistance programs and the fact that they have historically been associated with alcoholic or other wise deviant employees the programs tend to be stigmatized and thus, underutilized. (1) These problems suggest that understanding and tackling issues of burnout must go beyond individual treatment of "sick" employees to examining the organizational structures and norms that encourage and construct stress in the first place. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Correctional Contradictions: A Structural Approach to Addressing Officer Burnout
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.