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Handbook of Stress in the Occupations

Edited by Janice Langan-Fox and Cary Cooper

The Handbook of Stress in the Occupations sets a new agenda for stress research and gives fresh impetus to scholars who wish to focus on issues and problems associated with specific jobs, some of which have received little attention in the past.
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Chapter 13: Working in Prisons: A Critical Review of Stress in the Occupation of Correctional Officers

Maarten J.J. Kunst


Maarten J.J. Kunst INTRODUCTION Correctional officers (COs) have been portrayed as John Wayne-like characters: tough guys who do not fear to prevent and terminate aggressive interactions between inmates, and who will not back down when exposed to aggressive acts themselves (Cheek & Miller, 1983; Schaufeli & Peeters, 2000). However, COs frequently experience high levels of work stressors that may result in a wide range of poor health conditions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010), COs have the highest risk of nonfatal on-the-job injuries in the USA, particularly due to frequent aggressive encounters with inmates. Every month the Federal Bureau of Prisons calculates the rate of assaults against COs that occur per 5000 inmates. In June 2010, for instance, approximately 0.2 percent and 3.5 percent were recorded for serious and less serious assaults, respectively. Since US federal prisons house approximately 200 000 inmates, these percentages equal a staggering number of between 400 and 7000 assaults per week (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2010; see also Stephan & Karberg, 2003 and Useem & Piehl, 2006). However shocking these numbers may seem, they are likely to be an enormous underestimation of the total number of assaults against COs in the USA, as they do not include incidents occurring in state prisons. Although on a smaller scale, alarming figures exist for other countries as well. For example, an internal Correctional Service Canada report reveals that almost 1000 assaults occurred against federal correction workers between 2007 and 2010 (Correctional Service Canada, 2010). Unfortunately, though, the report does not...

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