After a review of research on how correctional officers (COs) view the risks inherent in their profession, this article suggests ways in which CO safety could be improved.
Several surveys and studies over the last two decades have examined COs' perceptions of danger in the workplace, the risk of contracting an infectious disease, the risk of injury, and the risk of other types of victimization. These studies indicate that officers perceive a moderate to high risk of contracting an infectious disease while at work. A majority of COs view their entire work environment to be dangerous, with many reporting feeling physically threatened by both inmates and co-workers. These perceptions of risk varied by gender, race, and education, with women perceiving additional risk, as did non-White COs and those with more formal education. Those who had worked in corrections for longer periods perceived a higher level of risk in their work. These widespread perceptions of risk of harm in the CO occupation increases job-related stress, negative work attitudes, poor mental and physical health, increased risk for hostile interactions with inmates, and high levels of CO turnover. A review of the research on policies and programs to improve CO wellness and safety found that few policies and programs have been evaluated. In developing effective programs for CO wellness and safety, this article recommends examining what law enforcement safety programs and policies have been effective. One recommendation is to establish employee assistance programs (EAPs), which provide consultation to administrators regarding the management of troubled employees through confidential and timely services, including referral to treatment providers. Other suggestions include environmental design that reduces stress and peer-to-peer support groups.