Prisons and Mental Health: Violence, Organizational Support, and the Effects of Correctional Work

Amy E. Lerman, Jessie Harney, Meredith Sadin

Criminal Justice and Behavior
September 8, 2021

Abstract: Correctional workers have a high likelihood of exposure to violence in the workplace. However, empirical literature has largely neglected the mental health consequences of prison work, as well as the institutional factors that might mitigate or exacerbate these effects. To fill this gap, we employ original survey data on thousands of correctional officers to explore the effects of exposure to violence on the job. We find strong associations between violence and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide risk, as well as symptoms of depression, alcohol abuse, anxiety, and sleep disorder. Importantly, we also find a potentially protective role of institutional factors, such as the quality of perceived management and supervision. In line with the perceived organizational support (POS) model, our findings make clear that organizational support can moderate the deleterious effects of prison work.

Featured Fellows

Jessie Harney

Goldman School of Public Policy
Computational Social Science Fellow