Dr. Carlos Monteiro ’02, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Suffolk University, recently conducted research on the mental health of Massachusetts correctional officers. The suicide rate for Massachusetts prison guards is over four times that of the nation’s highest-ranking demographic (men aged 25-64). Monteiro and his colleague, Northeastern University professor Natasha Frost, set out to find out why by talking to correctional officers and their loved ones. Frost and Monteiro both have experience working in Massachusetts prisons.
Twenty Mass. Department of Correction officers had completed suicide in the five years before the study was conducted. Monteiro and Frost engaged in a multiyear study to help the Department of Correction find solutions to this important issue. The researchers quickly noticed some themes emerge.
“Just treat officers as people, as human beings. It is important to talk to people and ask them how they’re doing – management doesn’t talk to staff unless they’re yelling, berating, or disciplining.” - Correctional Officer Interview
Correctional officers face long, stressful shifts that sometimes lead to substance dependency, chronic health conditions, and personal problems. Officers also have high levels of post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety.
Rotating schedules are a change that could be adopted to help officers, especially early in their careers. Schedules are currently determined by seniority, with the newest officers working every weekend.
“They end up having some days off, but they are usually during the week, so those officers miss out on time with family and friends,” says Monteiro. When those ties are weakened it can be difficult to rebuild them, damaging the officers’ support networks.
“The stigma has to go away because it’s a real thing—you can’t always be rough and tough. Have a little more care and compassion towards one another. You don’t have to like the people you work with, but you have to respect them and respect that we’re all doing the same job. We all want to go home.” - Correctional Officer Interview
If you or someone in your life is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Read more here.