Prison workers experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the same rate as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, according to a new study at Washington State University (WSU).
The findings, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, show that prison workers experience almost constant threat to their personal safety while on duty. More than half have seen an inmate die or have encountered an inmate who recently died, and the vast majority have dealt with inmates who were recently beaten and/or sexually assaulted.
Previous research has shown that prison workers have some of the highest rates of mental illness, sleep disorders and physical health issues of all U.S. workers, but the rate of PTSD among prison workers isn’t well understood.
The research was conducted by lead investigator Lois James, Ph.D., assistant professor at the WSU College of Nursing, and co-investigator Natalie Todak, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The study was also excerpted in Force Science News.
“Prison employees can face some of the toughest working conditions of U.S. workers,” said James, “yet limited evidence exists on the specific risk and protective factors to inform targeted interventions.”
According to the findings, prison employees work under an almost constant state of threat to their personal safety, and about a quarter of them routinely experience serious threats to themselves or their families.
Almost half have witnessed co-workers being seriously injured by inmates; more than half have seen an inmate die or have encountered an inmate who recently died; and the vast majority have dealt with inmates who were recently beaten and/or sexually assaulted.
PTSD rates were highest among women, black employees, and employees with more than 10 years of experience. PTSD scores, using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, didn’t differ based on the place of employment, such as a minimum versus maximum security facility.
The researchers note that the study included a small sample of 355 employees of one labor union at the Washington State Department of Corrections and recommended further study of the issue.
Still, they said their findings suggest the corrections profession could benefit from specific training to promote resilience. They also said that good working conditions can help protect prison employees from PTSD. This includes having strong relationships with supervisors and co-workers and liking one’s work assignments.
Source: Washington State University