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Predicting Work-Related Stress in Correctional Officers: A Meta-Analysis

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 32 Issue: 1 Dated: January/February 2004 Pages: 31-47
Craig Dowden; Claude Tellier
Date Published
January 2004
17 pages
This article discusses predictors of job stress in correctional officers.
There is an assumption that correctional work is stressful but little evidence to support this. This study provides the first meta-analytic examination of the strongest predictors of correctional officer stress. This approach will enable a more systematic exploration of the questions under review than previously possible. A literature search was conducted to identify studies published between January 1950 and January 2001 using the PsycInfo and National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) databases. The results show that the impact of demographic variables, such as gender, marital status, education, and number of children, was relatively unimpressive. Although age had a significant impact on predicting work-related stress in correctional personnel, the magnitude of the effect was quite low. The impact of work-related attitudes, such as decisionmaking, job satisfaction, commitment, and turnover, on correctional officer stress displayed a much stronger relationship. Participation in decisionmaking, job satisfaction, and commitment had significant negative impacts on correctional officer stress. In terms of the specific occupational problems facing correctional officers, the perceived dangerousness of the position far outweighs role difficulties in terms of its contribution to job stress. Very little empirical support was found for the role of job characteristics, such as shift, security level, contact hours, and years of experience, in the development of stress in correctional personnel. Professional orientation (rehabilitation-focused versus punitive/custody-oriented) may affect the job stress experienced by correctional officers. Officers that possess a human service/rehabilitation orientation experienced considerably less job stress than those that did not endorse such a position. Individuals that support custodial/punitive statements are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress compared to those that fail to endorse such statements. Research focusing on ethnic minorities and female correctional officers is an area in critical need of additional study. Also, the important role of country of study origin in explaining discrepancies in job stress must be emphasized. 8 tables, appendix, 73 references