The California Correctional Peace Officer Association (CCPOA) has taken an important step in addressing officer stress, burnout and dysfunction. Recognizing that a negative correctional environment is damaging to the mental, emotional, and physical health of correctional officers and inmates alike, is damaging to the quality and efficacy of rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism, and is costly to local governments as well as the state, CCPOA hosted a by-invitation policy convening on Officer Behavioral Health and Wellness, March 27-28, in Sacramento.
A cross-section of individuals were invited from the corrections, healthcare, curriculum and training, research and policymaking communities. Presentations and discussions touched on the way a stressful workplace and career can cause adverse health issues and how the toxicity and dysfunction often found in the corrections environment impacts everyone involved.
Officers spoke compellingly about how the job had impacted them: “You have to become somewhat shut off – unfortunately that leads to being jaded and mistrustful because you see ulterior motives in everyone…” Union leaders spoke on their behalf: “We want our members to hear that it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to care,” said one.
A recent survey presented some striking preliminary findings: 1 in 3 correctional officers have people in their lives who have expressed concern about their mental/physical health; 30% binge drink on a regular basis; 1 in 9 have considered or attempted suicide and 69% say they would "get out of corrections" if they could find a suitable job in another arena. Interestingly, 88% of correctional officers want more “stress management training.”
Day Two began with the surprise arrival of Governor Jerry Brown, who spoke passionately to the group about the critical importance of wellness, especially in an environment as stressful and challenging as corrections. The Governor applauded the initiative and committed to support innovation in improving correctional culture before his term in office ends. He promised to direct his staff to collaborate with stakeholders in order to generate bold solutions to this pressing need. CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan also was present and discussed his personal commitment to supporting new initiatives that impact officer health and wellness.
Center for Council is eager to play a role in the creation of a healthier, more resilient correctional culture and to collaborate in visioning and innovating with compassion-based practices for fostering greater presence, more skillful communication and more wholesome relationships among all stakeholders in this challenging arena. We are grateful to be included in these initial convenings and look forward to piloting council-based resiliency skills programs for officers that are impactful and sustainable.