Bullying In Corrections

By Dr. Olivia Johnson – Blue Wall Institute

The isolation of a job in corrections can leave many feeling out of sight and out of mind. And being out of sight and out of mind tends to allow certain things to go unaddressed.  A general consensus I have noticed when talking with CO’s has been that they believe no one cares about their wellbeing and that workplace bullying and bad behavior is at an all time high. Just listening to these stories is enough to make you cry, but I have to ask: What is wrong with us that we have become so cold as to not care about a fellow officer? When did backstabbing, gossip, and all around bad behavior in the workplace become acceptable?  Of course perception and reality may be two different things, but if so many CO’s are feeling this way, doesn’t that say something?  If it doesn’t, it should.

Anyone accepting a position in corrections understands the threat of the criminal element, the idea that they could be injured or even killed by an inmate.  That is reality. And no matter how sad this reality, what is often difficult for many CO’s to understand is how a co-worker, supervisor, or administrator could deliberately and sometimes, even with malice attack them verbally or mess with them just because they can.  Sadly, many of these problematic individuals are able to continue this bad behavior without being addressed, disciplined, or terminated.  Call them what you want, but I call these individuals ‘workplace bullies.’

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI, 2014) bullying by is “threatening, humiliating, or intimidating … work interference – sabotage which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse (p. 1).  Even sadder than having to address workplace bullying, are the statistics WBI revealed.  Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated being victims of workplace bullying, either in the past or currently.  Another 72 percent stated that they were aware of workplace bullying and sadly, bosses accounted for the highest number of workplace bullying incidents.  Another 72 percent of “…  employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize, and defend it” (para. 2).  A 2010 survey revealed some 13.7 million Americans said were currently being bullied at work, with the number around three times this for those bullied in the past (Riggio, 2011, as cited in Psychology Today).  These numbers are alarming. If so many are victims and so many are aware of workplace bullying, what can be done to stop the bully and the bullying behavior before if affects workers, the organization, and the morale?

The following six suggestions may be helpful when dealing with a workplace bully.  First, remember that there is power in numbers.  Don’t be a silent bystander. Bullies often single out individuals and others will turn a blind eye so they are not singled out. Second, document, document, document.  Make sure to write everything down with a time and date and make note of anyone else who witnessed the bullying.  Third, do not appear too nice to your bully (White, 2014).  Trying to appease your bully may be the wrong approach.  This type of behavior may actually fuel the bully. Instead, be firm and consistent and avoid directly responding to your bully.  Forth, contact your HR department and ask about policies regarding workplace bullying.  If a policy is in place, make sure you understand exactly what it says.  If one is not in place, contact your manager about the issue and make sure to document this interaction, whether face-to-face or via email.  Also make sure to speak with your direct supervisor about the bullying.  If your supervisor is the bully, it is suggested to take a witness with you to speak with them about their behavior.  If the behavior does not improve or there is resistance, you may have to go to their supervisor.

In a 2012 study by the WBI, over 75% of those surveyed are no longer employed. Various reasons included: transitioning to a new job, forced out, quit, or terminated (WBI, 2014). Fifth, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel if the bullying persists. Just remember that documentation is key to helping you prove your case.  Sixth, though I am not one to say turn around and run, leaving your job or transferring to another shift, department, or location may be necessary.  Whether you stay or choose to leave, find support at work and outside of work.  The stress associated with workplace bullies can leave you depleted.

Remember, oftentimes, workplace bullies are no more than childhood bullies who were never stood up to and fixing adult bullies is often much more difficult.  Try to reduce the time you are exposed to your workplace bully.  If you are not being bullied but you witness workplace bullying, don’t be a silent bystander; there is power in numbers. Bullies provoke others and will seek out those they feel are weak. Don’t give them any ammo in which to use against you.  Remain confident and seek out allies and legal counsel if necessary.

Riggio, R.E. (2011). Four steps for stopping workplace bullies. Retrieved

May 24, 2015, from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-


Workplace Bullying Institute. (2014). 2014 WBI U.S. workplace bullying

         survey 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2015, from:



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