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A Randomized Controlled Trial of the HeartMath Resilience Program: Exploring the Impact of Stress on Jail Staff Performance and Retention

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $498,491)

Jail officers experience many of the same work-related stressors as other correctional officers, but the unique nature of jails offers additional challenges that result in a host of negative consequences including physical and behavioral health problems, increasingly punitive attitudes, and increased absenteeism. The consequences of increased officer stress also result in organizational consequences, including greater levels of officer turnover and perpetual staffing shortages. Despite these observations, there has been limited research focused on identifying interventions aimed at reducing correctional officer stress, with even less research focused on jail officers. Given these limitations, the proposed study would conduct a randomized controlled trial with 300 currently employed jail officers to evaluate HeartMath, a comprehensive resiliency-based intervention that is emotion-focused and designed to reduce stress and improve officer well-being. The proposed study would be conducted in partnership with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee, Florida. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office has an extremely diverse correctional staff, comprised of a significant number of female (45%) and African-American (73%) officers, including a sizable proportion of African-American female officers (40%). These demographic characteristics offer the added benefit of examining the potential benefits of the examined intervention among a diverse population of jail officers. The proposed evaluation would involve a wait-list randomized controlled trial in which officers will be randomly assigned to receive the comprehensive resiliency-based program or the waitlist control condition. Officers assigned to the treatment condition will complete a baseline assessment and then receive specialized training from a certified HeartMath professional employed by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office that includes an educational overview of the program and an intensive one-on-one training session. The effectiveness of the comprehensive resiliency-based program for correctional officers will be evaluated on the following constructs: stress, health and behavioral health, workplace perceptions, correctional orientation, readiness to use force, and turnover intent. Additional information related to absenteeism and retention will be obtained from official records. Follow-up data collection timepoints will occur at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. In addition to peer reviewed papers and policy briefs, presentations at conferences aimed at optimizing jail workforce practices along with staff recruitment and retention at the state and national level will be employed for high impact dissemination. Members from the Leon County Sheriff’s Office will collaborate with members of the research team to present key study findings alongside programming and implementation guidance in practitioner-oriented journals and conference presentations.

Date Created: September 20, 2023