WSU Cougar Head Logo Washington State University
WSU Insider
News and Information for Faculty, Staff, and the WSU Community

PTSD rate among prison employees equals that of war veterans

Prison guard escorts inmate through jail corridor for booking after arrest.

By Addy Hatch, College of Nursing

Prison employees experience PTSD on par with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, a new study from a Washington State University College of Nursing researcher found.

Working conditions in a prison can include regular exposure to violence and trauma, and threats of harm to the workers and their families. Previous studies have 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 new study, “Prison employment and post-traumatic stress disorder: Risk and protective factors,” was conducted by lead investigator Lois James, Ph.D., assistant professor at the WSU College of Nursing, and co-investigator Natalie Todak, assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It recently was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and 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.”

Among the study’s 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.
  • The vast majority have dealt with inmates who were recently beaten and/or sexually assaulted.

PTSD rates were higher 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 where the employee worked, such as a minimum versus maximum security facility.

James and Todak note that the research 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 issues common to nearly every workplace also can protect prison employees from PTSD, such as having good relationships with supervisors and coworkers, and liking their work assignments.

 

Contact:

Next Story

German visiting scholar studies red wine quality

As a student in Germany, Ingrid Weilack was inspired by WSU enology professor Jim Harbertson. Now, the visiting scholar is experiencing what it’s like to work with him at the WSU Wine Science Center.

Recent News

German visiting scholar studies red wine quality

As a student in Germany, Ingrid Weilack was inspired by WSU enology professor Jim Harbertson. Now, the visiting scholar is experiencing what it’s like to work with him at the WSU Wine Science Center.

WSU programs hailed for top assessment efforts

Faculty and staff from nine bachelor’s-degree programs were recognized for their student assessment efforts that helped guide changes to undergraduate curriculum or instruction.

Strength in numbers

Prioritizing family, whether at home or on the field, is what drives Jake Dickert in his first full season as the WSU head football coach. Dickert and the Cougs play the Huskies in the Apple Cup this Saturday.

Global Campus inducts first distinguished alumni

The first five inductees were Shelley Broader, Nancy Krook, Lisa King, Katey Koehn, and Gary Rubens — all leaders in business or philanthropy and supporters of the worldwide WSU Global Campus community.

Insider will return Monday, Nov. 28

WSU Insider is taking a break to join with the rest of the university community in celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Enjoy the break. We’ll be back the morning of Nov. 28 with fresh posts and all the latest information for the WSU community.

Find More News

Subscribe for more updates