Addressing Correctional Officer Stress:
Programs and Strategies.
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Table of Contents

Author: Peter Finn
Date: December 2000 - NCJ 183474
Published: National Institute of Justice in cooperation with the Corrections Program Office Subject: Corrections; correctional personnel; program evaluations

Issues and Practices in Criminal Justice is a publication series of the National Institute of Justice. Each report presents the program options and management issues in a topic area, based on a review of research and evaluation findings, operational experience, and expert opinion on the subject. The intent is to provide information to make informed choices in planning, implementing, and improving programs and practices in criminal justice.

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
810 Seventh Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 2053

Janet Reno - Attorney General

Daniel Marcus - Acting Associate Attorney General

Mary Lou Leary - Acting Assistant Attorney General

Julie E. Samuels - Acting Director, National Institute of Justice

Office of Justice Programs World Wide Web Site

National Institute of Justice World Wide Web Site

National Institute of Justice - Julie E. Samuels - Acting Director

Vincent Talucci - Program Monitor

Project Advisors

Nancy K. Bohl-Penrod-Penrod-Penrod, Ph.D. Director The Counseling Team Suite 11 1881 Business Center Drive San Bernardino, CA 92408

Gary F. Cornelius Lieutenant Programs and Recreation Supervisor Adult Detention Center Fairfax County Office of the Sheriff 10520 Judicial Drive Fairfax, VA 22030

Jess Maghan, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Criminal Justice Office of International Criminal Justice (MC 141) University of Illinois at Chicago 1033 West Van Buren Street Chicago, IL 60607-2919

John Maloy Superintendent Training Academy New York State Department of Correctional Services 1134 New Scotland Road Albany, NY 12208-1097

Michael Marette Director, Corrections United American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 1625 L Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20036

Prepared for the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, by Abt Associates Inc., under contract #OJP-94-C-007. Points of view or opinions stated in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The National Institute of Justice is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime.


Stress among correctional officers is widespread, according to research studies and anecdotal evidence. The threat of inmate violence against officers, actual violence committed by inmates, inmate demands and manipulation, and problems with coworkers are conditions that officers have reported in recent years can cause stress.

Those factors combined with understaffing, extensive overtime, rotating shift work, low pay, poor public image, and other sources of stress can impair officers' health, cause them to burn out or retire prematurely, and impair their family life. This publication is designed to help correctional administrators develop an effective program to prevent and treat officer stress. Seven case studies illustrate diverse options for structuring a stress program. The following are among the seven programs' distinguishing features that administrators can consider adopting:

  • Run the program in-house or contract with external agencies.
  • Offer professional counseling, peer support, or both.
  • Address chronic stress, stress following a critical incident, or both.
  • Conduct academy or inservice training.
  • Serve family members.

In addition to those operational aspects, the report discusses options for staffing a stress program; explores methods of gaining officers' trust in the program; lists sources of help to implement or improve a stress program; and covers monitoring, evaluation, and funding issues.

The various program options presented in this report constitute, in effect, a "menu" from which correctional administrators can select program features and tailor them to a particular set of needs and resources. The potential payoff attributed to stress programs--uch as reduced stress-related overtime costs, improved officer performance, and increased institutional safety--more than justifies careful consideration of this report's observations and conclusions.

Julie E. Samuels Acting Director National Institute of Justice


I wish to thank the many individuals who patiently answered my questions and sent me materials about their stress programs, in particular, the following program directors and coordinators: Bruce W. Baker, Lawrence H. Bergmann, Nancy K. Bohl-Penrod-Penrod-Penrod, John J. Carr, James Hollencamp, Elaine Smith, and Edward J. Stelle.

Several other program staff members, correctional officers, and other employees were especially helpful in providing information for this report, including David Bielby, Cathy Carlson, Acey Edgemon, Edward Ferguson, Richard Gould, Robert S. Hamel, Barry S. Levin, Michael McGarthy, Mark Messier, Theodore Nevills, A.T. Wall, and Robert White. Special mention should be made of Daniel James Nagle, a corrections officer in Beeville, Texas, who was killed by an inmate several months after being interviewed for this report.

Roger J. Johnson provided information about his training activities for corrections personnel across the country; Richard Gist shared his insights into critical incident debriefings.

The following advisory panel members provided helpful guidance to the project during a 1-day meeting in Washington, D.C., and through comments on the draft report: Nancy K. Bohl-Penrod-Penrod-Penrod, Gary F. Cornelius, Jess Maghan, John Maloy, and Michael Marette. Among other criteria, panel members were selected for their diverse experiences and views regarding stress programming for correctional officers. As a result, readers should not infer that the panel members necessarily support all the programming recommendations offered in this publication.

Vincent Talucci, program monitor for the project at the National Institute of Justice, gave constant support and guidance to the project. Theodore Hammett, vice president at Abt Associates Inc., offered a number of valuable suggestions for improving the report. Mary-Ellen Perry and Joan Gilbert carefully produced the numerous report drafts.

Peter Finn
Abt Associates Inc

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