In the text, Inside the Criminal Justice Organization: An Anthology for Practitioners, O’Brien discusses how “occupational stress occurs when an employee’s work environment, such as the nature of job demands or physical or social situations, result in reactions that are detrimental to the person’s well-being (physical or mental health).” O’Brien goes on to discuss how elements of a work environment creates stressors (e.g. relationships or work schedules), these stressors can then cause a reaction such as, strain or anxiety (Mastrorilli, 2018). For example, in the field of criminal justice, officers face stressful situations and traumatic events such as, shootings and witnessing death, these occurrences could then create stressors. In addition to these elements, work-related stress can also “affect the well-being of the organization, in the form of heightened use of sick leave, absenteeism, turnover, and effects on productivity” (Mastrorilli, 2018). Moreover, in order to improve the overall well-being of an employee, it is important to address and implement strategies that can help alleviate these strains or stressors.
In addition to occupational stress is burnout. According Dr. Mastrorilli, burnout is caused by chronic stress and signs of individual burnout include “extreme cynicism and detachment; physical and mental exhaustion, and severe irritability.” Moreover, there are six causes of burnout, which includes too much workload and value mismatch, also not enough control, reward, community, and fairness (Mastrorilli, 2019). For example, in the field of criminal justice, correctional officers can become physically and mentally exhausted from experiencing too much workload that is excessive and demanding. Regarding occupational stress and burnout, these occurrences can have devastating effects on employees and even organizations. Therefore, it is important that administrators and leaders in the criminal justice field be proactive and aware of these occurrences.
As previously mentioned, criminal justice agents who work in the field face traumatic events, which could trigger certain responses and can have harmful effects. Some of these effects can include reliving the event or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Newsweek article, “in a survey of Washington State Department of Corrections employees, nearly 20 percent of participants expressed symptoms indicative of PTSD, the same rate as veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and higher than that of police officers.” Another study in California found that “ten percent of prison guards have contemplated suicide, three times higher than the U.S. population, facing the same exposure to violence that incites PTSD” (Andrews, 2018). As criminal justice officers are exposed to workplace trauma and is a necessary part of their job, it may be impossible to fully alleviate this mental health issue. However, leaders of an agency can make things possible by being proactive and prepare for strategies that can buffer against this stress-related disorder.
Within a criminal justice department is it important to implement a program that integrates intervention services. These services can be established in two phases. The first phase can provide a one-time incident-specific intervention that handles the effects of “overwhelming trauma on otherwise normal, well-functioning personnel” (Miller, 2014). The second phase of the process incorporates individuals who have reoccurring incidences of PTSD, which calls for a more extensive individual approach (Miller, 2014). Regarding these services, it is important that leaders of an agency consider the timing of the intervention. Specifically, in primary intervention, providing coping skills within the program can be an effective tool. Research suggests that “when people are given specific preparation for viewing traumatic scenes, they are better able to cope” (Mastrorilli, 2018). This research proposes that “people who are mentally prepared for stress fare better than those who are unprepared” (Mastrorilli, 2018). For example, this strategy can be incorporated at the beginning stages of training for officers. Therefore, this is a beneficial tool because it can target officers who are not yet at risk and allow them to learn specific coping mechanisms that can prepare them for a traumatic event.
Another program that should be implemented into criminal justice departments is critical incident stress debriefing (CISD). According to Miller, “CISD is a structured intervention designed to promote the emotional processing of traumatic events through the ventilation and normalization of reactions, as well as preparation for possible future experiences.” This specific model is based off a number of criteria in which the support staff will assess the employees and establish proper debriefing services, this criteria includes, “many individuals within a group appear to be distressed after a call; the signs of stress appear to be quite severe; personnel demonstrate significant behavioral changes; personnel make significant errors on calls occurring after the critical incident; personnel request help; the event is unusual or extraordinary” (Miller, 2014). These debriefings usually consist of mental health professionals and takes place within 24-72 hours after the incident has occurred (Miller, 2014). This is particularly beneficial for criminal justice departments, it allows officers to receive one-on-one attention and provides a response to their specific needs. Therefore, implementing these programs and addressing this mental health issue becomes not only beneficial to the officers, in hopes to increase their well-being, but it can also benefit the overall operations within an agency.
Andrew, S. (2018). Prison employees face same rates of PTSD as war veterans, new research claims. Newsweek. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/prison-workers-face-high-rates-ptsd-study-says-1024273
Mastrorilli, M. (2018). Inside the Criminal Justice Organization: An Anthology for Practitioners. Cognella Academic Publishing.
Mastrorilli, M. (2019). Lecture Modules 4 -5. Boston University.
Miller, L. (2014). Law enforcement traumatic stress: Clinical syndromes and intervention strategies. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Retrieved from http://www.aaets.org/article87.htm