Synthesis of Reviewed Literature


The decadent state of occupational outlook for correctional officers has been widely documented. According to Bedore (2012), they record some of the most damning statistics professionally. They have the second highest mortality of any profession and often have the 58th birthday as their last in most cases. In the course of their daily work, they have to grapple with assaults from inmates which are life threatening, with an assault happening at least twice in their career. Even in retirement, they hardly survive for long due to psychological trauma from the work environment. It is apparent that their work conditions predispose them to a flurry of health issues. Denhof & Spinaris (2016) found that the exposure to violence and traumatic events for instance had a direct correlation with mental health scores. The more an officer was involved in service the higher their chances of getting a mental health problem such as depression. In the end, burnout rates are high amongst correctional officers. Despite this knowledge, there is still little focus on research regarding correctional officers’ burnout, and specifically the correlation between employee bullying, traumatic conditions and high turnover.

Employee Bullying

            Employee bullying refers to repeated patterns of mistreatment at the workplace that result in physical and psychosocial harm. It can involve threats, humiliation, intimidation and even physical attacks on the employee. The prevalence of employee bullying in correctional settings is predictably high, most of it involving assault from inmates. Denhof, Spinaris & Morton (2014) identify employee confrontation, a form of bullying, as one of the main occupational stressors in correctional settings. It is categorized as one of the many traumatic stressors in the correctional settings. A study by Ritzman (2016) agrees that indeed employee bullying is a major problem in correctional settings. The prevalence rate is probably higher than reported and as such may be one of the main contributors to burnout.

Traumatic Conditions

There are direly traumatic conditions in correctional settings that contribute to burnout. Officers are exposed to violence, murder and intimidation which causes physical and emotional trauma. Officers in maximum security prisons (Level 5) have higher cases of burnout than those in other levels (Roy & Avdija 2012). It also follows that each level of security in the correctional settings comes with its own levels of trauma related stress. As you go higher on the levels, there is more violence, murder and exposure to different types of trauma. Lambert, Kelley & Hogan (2013) affirmed this observation, adding that the longer an officer was involved in service, the higher the exposure to trauma and subsequent effects. Trauma is one of the prolific sources of stress in correctional settings that lead to burnout and poor quality of life amongst correctional officers. Traumatic working conditions are a serious cause of burnout that may eclipse all the other factors in the correctional setting. It hastens it and leads to psychic transformation of the officers. A study by Young & Antonio (2009) found that the prison settings change the attitudes of the officers quite quickly. Within a year, the officer no longer professes the same enthusiasm and morale that was evident upon them joining the profession. Therefore, trauma is a major cause of burnout in the correctional setting.

High Turnover Rates

The turnover rates in the correctional settings are higher than in most professions. While the reason behind this may be largely due to environmental factors, officers also have a stake in it. A study by Johnson, John & Hughes (2015) showed that correctional officers stressed themselves out through self negligence. By embracing workouts, healthy diets and good mental habits, they were capable of significantly reducing stress and hence turnover rates in the profession. High turnover rates in correctional settings are an ever present problem that does not seem to go away even in the face of mitigation measures. A census by Stephan (2008) reveals a ratio of one officer to five inmates which besides not being good enough was not attained in some facilities. This was because of the high numbers of officers leaving the profession, some of whom in not so ideal circumstances. Female officers were also at fear of high risk of victimization by both fellow staff and inmates hence having high turnover rates. In the end, there are a number of issues to be resolved if high turnover rates were to be curbed in correctional settings.


The prognosis of the burnout rates in correctional settings is quite grim. There are cases of employee bullying, high turnover rates and the traumatic prison environment that need addressing in order to cure the problem. However, a literature synthesis demonstrates how sophisticated these patterns of factors can be, with each espousing multiple dimensions. Future research should focus on a closer look at the three elements discussed and indeed how they directly correlate to burnout. That is the only way that the job outlook of correctional officers can break off from the current damning statistics of turnover, burnout, suicides, divorces and mental issues. In the present form, it is hardly possible to discern in what ways the factors can be addressed for positive results.


Bedore, K. E. (2012). Beating the odds. Retrieved from

Denhof, M. D., Spinaris, C. G., & Morton, G. R. (2014). Occupational stressors in corrections organizations: Types, effects and solutions. Retrieved from

Denhof, M. D., & Spinaris, C. G. (2016). Prevalence of trauma-related health conditions in correctional officers: A profile of michigan corrections organization members. Retrieved from Michigan Correction Organization website:

Gordon, J. A., Proulx, B., & Grant, P. H. (2013). Trepidation among the “keepers”: Gendered perceptions of fear and risk of victimization among corrections officers. American Journal of Criminal Justice : AJCJ, 38(2), 245-265. doi:

Johnson, John W. Sr, C.J.M., & Hughes, R. (2015). Stop stressing out. American Jails, 29(2), 8-10,12-14. Retrieved from

Lambert, E. G., Kelley, T., & Hogan, N. L. (2013). Hanging on too long: The relationship between different forms of organizational commitment and emotional burnout among correctional staff. American Journal of Criminal Justice: AJCJ, 38(1), 51-66. doi:

Ritzman, M. E. (2016). Bullying behind bars: A preliminary study of human resources professionals and workplace bullying in corrections. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 8(2), 137-146. Retrieved from

Roy, S., & Avdija, A. (2012). The effect of prison security level on job satisfaction and job burnout among prison staff in the USA: An assessment. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 7(2), 524-538. Retrieved from

Stephan, J. J. (2008). B.J.S. Census of state and federal correctional facilities, 1(1), 1-28. Retrieved from Facts and numbers regarding corrections.

Young, J. L., & Antonio, M. E. (2009). Correctional staff attitudes after one year of employment: Perceptions of leniency and support for inmate rehabilitation. Corrections Compendium, 34(3), 9-15,17. Retrieved from

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