By Brian Dawe
Every year on average ten Correctional Officers die in the line of duty. Every year 156 Correctional Officers take their own lives. The cumulative negative affects this job has on our health is devastating. For every Officer that dies in the line of duty, fifteen take their own lives.
“…….over time, negative work experiences and resulting psychological distress may have a cumulative impact that shapes personality adversely and causes individuals to develop a more pervasively negative outlook.”
Do you jump when the phone rings even when you’re off the job? Is your first reaction to your children’s request “no,” regardless what they’re asking? Do you sit with your back to the wall in order to watch ingress and egress points? Do you feel emotions well up in you far above what the situation warrants? Are you frequently tired, and consuming more alcohol than before? Are you often asked by family and friends if everything is all right? Have you stopped listening? Do you seek more solitude and alone time?
PTSD and Depression
In a room with 100 randomly selected correctional officers, statistically 34 out of 100 will have PTSD, and 31 will be diagnosed with severe depression. Officers diagnosed with PTSD also have a 65% chance of comorbidity with depression. Officers diagnosed with depression have a 67% chance of comorbidity with PTSD.
A 2012 national study of nearly 4,000 correctional officers and staff conducted by Caterina Spinaris, Ph.D. with Desert Waters Outreach in Colorado found a 27% PTSD rate among all correctional staff and a depression rate of 26%. Among security personnel the rate is 34%, substantially higher than the general population and all other first responders.
According to a 2010 report from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, for adults in the general population, current prevalence rates have been estimated at 3.5% for PTSD and 9.1% for depression. Compare that to the correctional profession in which male security staff have the highest rates for PTSD, 35.8% and depression, 32.5%. For female security staff the rates are slightly lower at 29.6% for PTSD and 27.1% for depression. When both PTSD and depression are present the chances of suicide greatly increase.
One of the major contributing factors that appears to increase PTSD and depression rates is the officer’s VID experience. VID is when a staff person experiences or witnesses Violence, Injury or Death (VID) on the job. Spinaris’ report showed that staff who have not experienced VID on the job had a 13% depression rate, while those experiencing one or more VIDs saw that rate jump to 27.6%
In 2016 the National Institute of Justice awarded a $500,000 grant to Northeastern University in Massachusetts to study the impacts of correctional officer suicide. In the “Background” section of the award it states:
“The rate of suicide among correctional officers in Massachusetts since 2010 has been at least five times higher than the national average and almost eight times higher than the suicide rate in the state.” From 2010 to 2016, eighteen Massachusetts Correctional Officers took their lives.
In 2009 the New Jersey Police Suicide Task force found that the suicide rate for men in the general population aged 25-64 was 14 per 100,000. For police officers it was slightly higher at 15.1/100,000. For correctional officers, however, it was off the charts at 34.8/100,000 more than double the rate of suicide for police officers.
“Based on the analysis of death certificate data from 21 states that provided information on the occupation of the deceased, it was determined that Corrections Officers risk of suicide was 39% higher than that of the rest of all other professions combined.”
Police psychologist Gary Aumiller, Ph.D., while studying police and corrections divorce rates found that:
“Corrections Officers are above the general population on all measure of divorce. It is a sad thing, and we have to look at that as a profession, but our corrections officers are higher in rates of divorce, and in the rates of growth in the divorced population. It is difficult to do the statistics any other way. They were 20% more likely to get a divorce than the general population...”
Heart disease is also a factor when PTSD and depression are present. “Individuals formally screened for PTSD and Depression reported that they suffered from heart disease approximately twice as often as individuals who were disorder-free and approximately 50% more often than individuals who had PTSD only or Depression only. These results indicate that corrections professionals with concurrent PTSD and Depression are substantially more likely to report having heart disease, and suggest that they are at increased risk for heart disease.”
In short, correctional officers have a 39% higher suicide rate, PTSD rates ten times higher than the general population, a divorce rate that’s 20% higher than the national average, and heart disease affects us at a rate that is 50% higher than any other occupation. These statistics are sobering, and even more so because they are so underreported.
Every elected official in your jurisdiction should get a copy of the reports cited herein and this summary. Don’t let them tell you, “I didn’t know…” Be safe in there.
 Depression, PTSD and Comorbidity in United States Corrections Professionals: Prevalence and Impact on Health and Functioning. Michael D. Denhof, Ph.D. Caterina G. Spinaris Ph.D., Desert Waters Outreach, June 2013
 “The Impact of Correctional Officer Suicide on the Institutional Environment and on the well-being of Correctional Employees” National Institute of Justice Grant, Award # 2016-MU-MU-0010, 2016 Northeastern Univ., Boston, MA
 New Jersey Police Suicide Task Force Report, June 2009, http://www.state.nj.us/lps/library/NJPoliceSuicideTaskForceReport-January-30-2009-Final(r2.3.09).pdf
 Ibid Denhof, Spinaris
 “Divorce in Cops and Corrections” Gary Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP, Police Psychologist, December 2, 2016
Brian Dawe, Executive Director, American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network
Former Massachusetts State Correctional Officer May 1982-July 1998.
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