Thursday, March 10, 2022

Panel Examines Health Hazards of Correctional Occupations

Baker Hall at Yale Law School

The Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy kicked off its Spring Spotlight Series on Prison Health on March 9 with a panel discussion on understanding and addressing the health hazards of correctional staff. The three-part series on prison health is co-sponsored by the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale Law School and the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice at Yale School of Medicine.

The panel was moderated by Nneka Jones Tapia, Managing Director of Justice Initiatives Chicago Beyond and involved participants from academia, the corrections community, and criminal justice advocacy. Panelists included Andy Potter, Founder, One Voice United; Stephanie Rawlings, Staff Wellness Program Administrator, Illinois Department of Corrections; Rose Ricciardelli, Professor of Sociology & Criminology Memorial, University of Newfoundland; Marcella Siqueira Cassiano, Postdoctoral Research Fellow Memorial, University of Newfoundland; and Simon Greer, Senior Advisor, One Voice United.

WATCH: Understanding and Addressing the Health Hazards of the Correctional Occupation

Jones Tapia started the conversation by detailing the collective trauma experienced by everyone who touches the carceral system. She said that this realization helps to acknowledge that the root of the issue remains even if a person changes their behavior or outlook. Instead, she redirected the focus on the system problem of incarceration and violence.

Potter went on to detail why someone may choose to become a correctional officer and discussed the opportunity it provided for upward social mobility. Greer touched upon the daily challenges correctional officers encountered. He explained that they suffer from PTSD at higher rates than former military and police and said they experience depression and suicidal thoughts at epidemic levels. He also shared that being a correctional officer shaves off 15 years from a person’s life expectancy. In light of this discussion of the mental and emotional wellbeing of correctional officers, Rawlings discussed her experiences of providing therapy to correctional officers and described how she works with them to redefine the meaning of their jobs, and to overcome the feeling of powerlessness.

In addition, Ricciardelli and Siqueira Cassiano shared their observations from studying violence that correctional officers experienced in Canada. The panelists also addressed why it was difficult to align the interests of incarcerated people and correctional officers. They discussed the use of solitary confinement as a source of strain on these relationships. Finally, the panel addressed the "defund the police" movement and its impact on correctional officers’ perceptions as well as some of the racial tensions between correctional officers and incarcerated people of color.