A recent article in Criminal Justice and Behavior features research examining the relationship between perceived dangerousness and fear experienced by community corrections personnel and workplace performance. The authors sought to identify predictors of perceived dangerousness and the emotion of fear, as well as the impact such experiences might have on negative outcomes for personnel. In this article, we summarize key takeaways from the study and consider how the findings might apply to practitioners in the field.
Prior research conducted with correctional officers who work in institutional settings has shown a connection between their perceptions of danger and fear with negative workplace outcomes, including "job stress, burnout, and secondary trauma." Yet, barely any research exists to examine whether those working in community corrections—wherein work typically takes place in offices or homes within the community—experience a similar pattern of perceptions of danger and fear leading to negative workplace outcomes.
The authors of this study, therefore, sought to address the following three questions:
- Are perceived dangerousness and experienced fear two common components of workplace safety consideration for community corrections personnel?
- Can predictors for danger (a perception) and fear (an experience) be identified?
- Are these two factors (dangerousness and fear) correlated to workplace outcomes, specifically "burnout, secondary trauma, job stress, and job satisfaction"?
Study Method and Design
Data for the study was collected from both probation/parole officers and residential officers working in the state of Iowa. Although a total of 620 community corrections personnel were contacted to participate, 277 completed the survey (179 probation/parole officers and 98 residential officers).
Dependent and independent variables were measured as follows:
- Perceived dangerousness was determined through use of a Likert scale (1 to 5) applied to three statements about the job.
- Burnout was measured through the use of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI).
- Secondary trauma was assessed via a scale developed by Bride et al. applied to the most recent week at work.
- Job stress and job satisfaction were assessed with the same item using a Likert scale (1 to 5) rating.
Control variables for the study included gender, highest degree completed, job title, tenure, amount of direct contact with clients, educational training, safety training, supervisor support, coworker support, role ambiguity, role conflict, role overload, and input into decision-making.
Findings and Recommendations
Upon analysis of the results, the researchers determined the following findings related to their original research questions:
- There was a positive correlation between perceived dangerousness and experienced fear.
- Based on a moderate correlation between the two, the authors recommend treating them as distinct variables when considering workplace safety.
- Based on these findings, the authors recommend "agencies should not only assess their safety training protocols but also evaluate what aspects of these trainings are most helpful after the fact."
- Incident debriefings can help to identify experienced fear, while mental health treatment could help to resolve or process such experiences.
- To address role overload, the authors stated "agencies should consider ways to reduce role overload to improve not just perceptions of the job as dangerous, but more importantly to reduce incidences of fear among their employees."
- To address this correlation, the authors again emphasized the importance of integrating mental health treatment into safety training and incident debriefing.
IACFP Member Experiences
In contributing to our work and research on the experiences of correctional workers in the field, we invite our members to consider the following questions:
- How often in the last month have you perceived a sense of dangerousness in your work?
- How often in the last month have you experienced fear while at work?
- What organizational changes would serve to positively support your work and mental wellbeing?
- How would you describe the mental health expectations, support, and treatment options in your current work environment?
- What changes would you like to see in your current role?
If you would like to contribute any thoughts to this discussion or have responses to any of these questions, please email email@example.com.
* References available upon request.