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Occupational stress

Knowing information concerning the three main concepts included in the research question of this essay, a more thorough investigation can be carried out in order to evaluate effects of specific stressors encountered by prison officers on criminal rehabilitation. After the analysis of multiple studies examining the causes of occupational stress among correctional officers (e.g., McCarthy, 2012; Finn, 2000; Schaufeli & Peeters, 2000), five most frequently mentioned stressors were chosen and will be discussed along with their consequences on criminal rehabilitation in the following order: a threat of inmate attack, work overload, incorrect relationships with supervisors, disproportionately low salary and low level of perceived occupational prestige.

Threat of inmate attack: The physical environment of correctional facilities is often associated with exposure to hazardous situations. As concluded in a study done by Konda, Reichard and Tiesman (2012) , workplace assault is the main cause of all occupational injuries among correctional officers. Besides working with a population that is known for being prone to violence, prison officers have to face other risks as well. Lombardo (1981) reported that since the 1980s the risk of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or Hepatitis infection has significantly increased due to higher inflow of drug addicted inmates. With the drastic increase in the number of prisoner assault incidents (House of Commons, 2017) as well as high rates of blood-borne virus infections in prison populations (Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, 2013) , personnel working in direct contact with inmates are at the highest risk of everyday stressors- not only a threat of inmate attack but also a fear of being infected by them (McCarthy, 2012). Taking into account those harsh realities, one of the commonly used coping strategies by correctional officers to reduce stress symptoms is distancing (Scott, 2013) . This process involves suppression of threatening thoughts and behavioral disengagement from the stressor which in this particular case includes inmates in general (Mikulincer & Florian, 2008) .This may be manifested by shorter and more formalized contacts as well as less personal engagement in individual cases. Distancing may even lead to emotional detachment (Mikulincer & Florian, 2008), which although being a valuable technique can have disturbing effects in a long run as appropriate treatment of prisoners and their effective rehabilitation requires concern and continuous interest ( . According to Maslach this kind of negative attitude towards recipients of one’s services can be called ‘depersonalization’ and along with emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment is considered a symptom of burnout syndrome which arises in response to chronic occupational stress. Furthermore, the negative impact of burnout on occupational performance such as staff productivity and job satisfaction has been widely shown. One of the principles to effective rehabilitation states that this process should be strongly individualized, however due to the stress connected with the threat of inmate attack, prison officers might distance themselves from the prisoners and even develop burnout syndrome which can make them indifferent to the prisoners’ needs resulting in reduced effectiveness of criminal rehabilitation.

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Work overload: Since about the year 2000 the world prison population total has grown by almost 20% , however most countries, especially in Europe have encountered a decrease in number of prison staff . That led to worsened prisoner to staff ratios which reduces safety among inmates as well as among prison officers. Correctional officers from overcrowded facilities have been also found to report higher levels of stress and indicated that it had negative effect on their job performance . Nevertheless rising prison population itself should not be considered a stressor but the consequent work overload certainly should. Prison officers who interact daily with large amounts of inmates can be forced to reduce the time and engagement in individual cases and therefore negatively influence the process of criminal rehabilitation. Losing that case-by-case approach results in less carefully chosen rehabilitation programs and strategies which increases the possibility of recidivism occurring. Overall, in overcrowded prisons, management style is more concentrated on ensuring security, preventing violence and neutralizing psychosocial effects of overcrowding rather than implementing the rehabilitation programs which is the reason for the whole society to suffer the consequences. In Recommendation 1257 /1995/ on the conditions of detention in Council of Europe member states, adopted by the Committee of Ministers it has been stated that overcrowding is the reason for worsening prison conditions and that in this kind of environment there is a lack of possibility to have individual impacts on inmates. That results in prisoners engaging in criminal behavior and coming back to correctional facilities, forming a vicious cycle. All in all, prison overcrowding and understaffing leads to correctional officers having to face the stressor of work overload which reduces the effectiveness of criminal rehabilitation.

Incorrect relationships with supervisors: Supervisors are essential to the larger structures like correctional facilities because such individuals clarify roles and outline organizational procedures (Jablin, 1987). Unfortunately, this necessary supervisor-subordinate relationship was not left without imperfections. Apart from experiencing conflicts with inmates, more than 35% of prison officers in a study done on members working in all detention facilities of Correctional Service of Canada , reported being victims of harassment on the part of their supervisors. Quality of supervision have been said to be among the strongest predictors of occupational stress which is why low quality of supervision has been linked to a variety of psychological outcomes such as distress and burnout syndrome that obviously prevents prison officers from providing inmates with effective criminal rehabilitation. In addition to that, when supervisory style and relationships with subordinates are incorrect, it happens that information coming from guiding authority, does not reach its destination-appropriate correctional officers. Lack of sufficient information among implementing staff may result in unexpected situations like not undertaking certain action or imprecisely doing so due to miscommunications . The process of criminal rehabilitation is then distorted and its effectiveness is reduced. As was mentioned in a chapter describing the role of a prison officer, cooperation and communication between the whole prison staff community is an integral part of criminal rehabilitation. Overall, low quality of supervision should be considered an occupational stressor present among prison officers and its negative effect on effectiveness of criminal rehabilitation should be noticed.

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Disproportionately low salary: Conditions in which prison officers work provoke many ethical questions to arise as they make guards particularly susceptible to corruption, defined by the World Bank as ‘the abuse of public power for private benefit’. Bribery in prisons includes smuggling contraband such as weapons and phones, influencing inmates’ location and treatment as well as providing them with other benefits for usually monetary profits. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics correctional officers and jailers’ mean annual wage in 2017 came to nearly 6% below annual mean wage of all occupations which is to be considered a source of occupational stress. The study concerning a connection between public official’s wages and their corruptibility has shown that low-wage public officials are over 50% more likely than high-wage ones to accept bribes . Hence, the disproportionately low salary of prison officers, considering the importance of their job can and often does create the temptation of corruption. The effect of it on criminal rehabilitation is quite significant as it undermines the deterrent effect of criminal punishment and opposes the idea of re-socialization through exposure to other misdemeanors. Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) through a series of conducted experiments supported a Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977) which states that thinking and behavior is learned by observing others. The social environment a person is in and the type of modelling they receive determines, in large measure, their future behavior. That is the reason for which many rehabilitative programs use social learning variables to encourage a positive change in behavior. Consequently, since prison officers are often the only role-models to the incarcerated, their unethical actions prompt lack of change in inadequately socialized individuals and may lead to reoffending. Therefore it can be summarized that one of the main causes of stress among correctional officers- disproportionately low salary, can reduce the effectiveness of criminal rehabilitation.

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Low level of perceived occupational prestige: Media is, to a large extent, a source of information about the criminal justice system used by the public. Unfortunately, a content analysis of 489 articles from newspapers across the United States showed that prison officers were portrayed negatively in 79.8% cases (Vickovic, Griffin, and Fradella, 2013). Media portrayal perpetuates the ideas held as standard that they are violent, abusive, indifferent and incompetent individuals. Pearson (2010) also states that correctional officers are ascribed cruder stereotypes than other occupations which aligns with the fact that this profession holds little occupational prestige in society . In addition, studies done by Lee et al. (2012) supported the hypothesis that social dimensions such as occupational prestige are one of the factors responsible for job satisfaction . Negative public perception of prison officers as well as their awareness of their low occupational prestige can be considered a source of stress. The consequence of this stressor is significant as low level of social support results in lower job satisfaction which has been connected to poor job performance . What is more, exposure to unfavorable ideas about prison personnel might influence their actual work due to existence of stereotype threat which has been defined by Steele and Aronson (1995) as situational predicament in which the existence of a negative stereotype about a group to which one belongs means that in situations where the stereotype is applicable, one is at risk of confirming it. According to the theory, when negative stereotypes are present regarding a group of prison staff, correctional officers are likely to become anxious about their performance, which may reduce their ability to perform, to their full potential, the tasks they are responsible for, including criminal rehabilitation. Therefore, it is in best interest of every community to have satisfied and supported correctional officers as low level of occupational prestige related to presence of negative stereotypes is a source of occupational stress which can have negative influence on criminal rehabilitation.

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