What workplace challenges have correctional officers faced during COVID-19?

Correctional workers have a high likelihood of exposure to violence in the workplace. However, there is often little attention on the mental health consequences of prison work, as well as the institutional factors that might mitigate or exacerbate these effects.

In partnership with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), we set out to better understand how COVID-19 affected correctional staff. Our goal was to determine how the COVID-19 outbreak impacted California correctional officers, and what resources will likely be required to help them both during and following this crisis, both personally and professionally.

In May 2020, we deployed an online survey sent via email to all officers currently employed in the state’s adult correctional institutions. We received 1,761 responses, constituting roughly 9% of California’s correctional officer workforce. While the sample size is relatively small, respondents represent each of California’s adult state correctional institutions and are broadly representative by race and gender.

We find that many California correctional officers faced substantial work-related stress as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Notably, our survey closed in July of 2020. The prevalence of cases inside California’s prisons increased substantially in the months that followed, potentially exacerbating the work-related difficulties and attendant frustrations correctional officers were experiencing.

In addition, we find reason for concern that the added workplace stressors caused by the virus could increase officer absenteeism and turnover in both the short and longer term. In the coming months and years, the effects of the pandemic on these workers—as well as the state’s ability to maintain health and safety in its correctional institutions—may become even more pronounced.

This project was funded by the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Correctional Health Care Service


Journal Article

The Pandemic in Prison: Implications for California Politics and Policymaking


Presentation: Correctional Officer Experiences of COVID

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