People working in prisons and in secure hospitals in the UK are at considerable risk of work-related stress, exhaustion and depression. This raises serious concerns for safety.
These are the findings of a survey of prison officers conducted by Professor Gail Kinman, Dr Andrew Clements and Dr Jacqui Hart from the University of Bedfordshire that will be presented at the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology conference in Glasgow.
The survey consisted of 1,682 participants with a considerable majority male (85 per cent). Ages ranged from 20 to 67 years with a mean of 47 and they had worked for the prison service for an average of 18 years. Most participants worked in the public sector (97 per cent).
Analysis found that the level of work-related demands was considerably higher and control and support from managers were lower in the prison service than in other 'safety critical' occupations such as the police and the fire and rescue service. Officers frequently reported psychological health problems related to their working conditions, such as depression, anxiety and emotional exhaustion, as well as sleeping difficulties and cognitive deficits. Of particular concern was the finding that disclosing work-related stress is highly stigmatised in the prison service and there is little support and training available. Many felt that the support that was offered was not confidential which further discouraged uptake. Moreover, most respondents expressed reluctance to take sick leave due to feelings of job insecurity and fears for the safety of their colleagues and prisoners.
Professor Kinman said: "Our research has found solid evidence that people working in prisons and in secure hospitals are at considerable risk of work-related stress and psychological health problems. A key source of strain was violence, intimidation and threats from prisoners. The finding that work-related stress is stigmatised in prisons and little support is available is particularly concerning. Overall, the findings of our survey raise serious concerns, not only for the health of employees but also for the safety of prisoners and the functioning of the UK prison service in general."
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