How Does Prison Violence Affect Guards? One-Third May Have PTSD


How does the culture of endemic violence in prisons affect the corrections officers who interact with prisoners? With over 2 million prisoners and around half a million corrections officers, it is a widespread and underreported problem, says The Guardian. Corrections officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at more than double the rate of U.S. military veterans, says Caterina Spinaris, a leading professional in corrections-specific clinical research and founder of Desert Waters Correctional Research, a nonprofit based in Colorado. This inevitably affects prisoners. While there are no hard data on guard-on-inmate assaults, interviews with current and former corrections officers found that COs occasionally take out the stress of the job on inmates.

In 2011, Spinaris did an anonymous survey of corrections officers, testing them for indications of PTSD: repeated flashbacks of traumatic incidents, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and alienation, among others. She found that 34 percent of corrections officers suffer from PTSD, compared with 14 percent of military veterans. The suicide rate among corrections officers is twice as high as that of both police officers and the general public, says a New Jersey police taskforce. An earlier national study found that corrections officers' suicide risk was 39 percent higher than all other professions combined. “Right now, we're about where the military was 10, 15 years ago when it comes to them dealing with PTSD,” says Michael Van Patten, an Oregon corrections officer who was assaulted when he was helping a nurse give a rectal exam to an inmate suspected of packing drugs.

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