International Journal of Stress Management

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 19–48 | Cite as

Job Stress and Burnout Among Correctional Officers: A Literature Review

  • Wilmar B. Schaufeli
  • Maria C. W. Peeters


This literature review presents an overview of occupational stress and burnout in correctional institutions, based on 43 investigations from 9 countries. First, the prevalence of various stress reactions among correctional officers (COs) is discussed: turnover and absenteeism rates, psychosomatic diseases, and levels of job dissatisfaction and burnout. Next, empirical evidence is summarized for the existence of 10 specific stressors in the CO's job. It appears that the most notable stressors for COs are role problems, work overload, demanding social contacts (with prisoners, colleagues, and supervisors), and poor social status. Finally, based on 21 articles, individual-oriented and organization-oriented approaches to reduce job stress and burnout among COs are discussed. It is concluded that particularly the latter (i.e., improving human resources management, professionalization of the CO's job, and improvement of the social work environment) seems to be a promising avenue for reducing job stress and burnout in correctional institutions.

job stress burnout correctional officers intervention strategies stress management 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Augestad, L. B., & Levander, S. (1992). Personality, health and job stress among employees in a Norwegian penitentiary and in a maximum security hospital. Work & Stress, 6, 65–79.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Britton, D. M. (1997). Perceptions of the work environment among correctional officers. Do race and sex matter? Criminology, 35, 85–105.Google Scholar
  4. Buunk, B. P., de Jong, J., Ybema, J. F., & de Wolff, Ch.J. (1998). Psychosocial aspects of occupational stress. In P. J. Drenth, H. Theirry, & Ch.J. de Wolff (Eds.), Handbook of work and organizational psychology (pp. 145–182). London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  5. Cheek, F. E., & Miller, M. (1983). The experience of stress for correctional officers: A double bind theory of correctional stress. Journal of Criminal Justice, 11, 105–120.Google Scholar
  6. Cherniss, C. (1980). Professional burnout in human service organizations. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  7. Corrections Compendium (1996). The National Journal for Corrections. Published by The American Correctional Association, Lanham USA.Google Scholar
  8. Cullen, F. T., Link, B. G., Wolfe, N. T., & Frank, J. (1985). The social dimensions of correctional officers' stress. Justice Quarterly, 2, 505–535.Google Scholar
  9. Cullen, F. T., Link, B. G., Cullen, J. B., & Wolfe, N. T. (1990). How satisfying is prison work? A comparative occupational approach. Journal of Offender Counseling, Services and Rehabilitation, 14, 89–108.Google Scholar
  10. Dignam, J. T., Barrera, M., & West, S. G. (1986). Occupational stress, social support, and burnout among correctional officers. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 177–193.Google Scholar
  11. Dignam, J. T., & West, S. G. (1988). Social support in the workplace: Tests of six theoretical models. American Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 701–724.Google Scholar
  12. Dollard, M. F., & Winefield, A. H. (1994). Organizational response to recommendations based on a study among correctional officers. International Journal of Stress Management, 1, 81–101.Google Scholar
  13. Dollard, M. F., & Winefield, A. H. (1995). Trait anxiety, work demands, social support and psychological distress in correctional officers. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 8, 25–35.Google Scholar
  14. Dollard, M. F., & Winefield, A. H. (1998). A test of the demand-control/support model of work stress in correctional officers. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 243–264.Google Scholar
  15. Drory, A., & Shamir, B. (1988). Effects of organizational and life variables on job satisfaction and burnout. Group and Organization Studies, 13, 441–455.Google Scholar
  16. Edelwich, J., & Brodsky, A. (1980). Burnout: States of disillusionment in the helping professions. New York: Human Resources Press.Google Scholar
  17. Farmer, J. A. (1988). Relationship between job burnout and perceived inmate exploitation of juvenile correctional workers. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 32, 67–73.Google Scholar
  18. Frese, M., & Zapf, D. (1988). Methodological issues in the study of work stress: Objective versus subjective measurement of work stress and the question of longitudinal studies. In C. L. Cooper & R. Payne (Eds.), Cause, coping and consequences of stress at work (pp. 375–411). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  19. Fry, L. J. (1989). Counselor reactions to work in prison settings. Journal of Offender Counseling, Services and Rehabilitation, 14, 121–132.Google Scholar
  20. Gerstein, L. H., Topp, C. G., & Correll, G. (1987). The role of the environment and person when predicting burnout among correctional personnel. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 14, 352–369.Google Scholar
  21. Greuter, M. A. M., & Castelijns, M. T. (1992). Ziekteverzuim en verloop en de relatie met het werk en de werksituatie van penintentiare inrichtingswerker [Absenteeism and turnover and their relationship with the working environment of COs]. Utrecht: PsychoTechniek.Google Scholar
  22. Grossi, W. L., & Berg, B. L. (1991). Stress and job dissatisfaction among correctional officers: An unexpected finding. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 35, 73–81.Google Scholar
  23. Harding, T. W., & Zimmermann, E. (1989). Psychiatric symptoms, cognitive stress and vulnerability factors: A study in a remand prison. British Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 36–43.Google Scholar
  24. Härenstam, A. (1989). Prison personnel-Working conditions, stress and health: A study of 2,000 prison employees in Sweden. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Stockholm, Sweden.Google Scholar
  25. Härenstam, A., Palm, U-B., & Theorell, T. (1988). Stress, health and the working environment of Swedish prison staff. Work & Stress, 2, 281–290.Google Scholar
  26. Härenstam, A., & Theorell, T. (1990). Cortisol elevation and serum g-glutamyltranspeptidase in response to adverse job conditions: How are they interrelated? Biological Psychology, 31, 157–171.Google Scholar
  27. Hartley, J., Jacobson, D., Klandermans, B., & Van Vuuren, T. (1991). Job insecurity: Coping with jobs at risk. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Hepburn, J. R. (1987). The prison control structure and its effects on work attitudes: The perceptions and attitudes of prison guards. Journal of Criminal Justice, 15, 49–64.Google Scholar
  29. Holgate, A. M., & Clegg, I. J. (1991). The path to probation officer burnout: New dogs, old tricks. Journal of Criminal Justice, 19, 325–337.Google Scholar
  30. Houtman, I. L. D. (1997). Trends in arbeid en gezondheid 1996 [Trends in work and health 1996]. Amsterdam: NIA'TNO.Google Scholar
  31. Huckabee, R. G. (1992). Stress in corrections: An overview of the issues. Journal of Criminal Justice, 20, 479–486.Google Scholar
  32. Hughes, G. V. (1990). Personal disposition, coping, and adaptation in correctional workers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Queen's University, Kingston: Ontario.Google Scholar
  33. Hughes, G. V., & Zamble, E. (1993). A profile of Canadian correctional workers. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 37, 99–113.Google Scholar
  34. Hurst, T. E., & Hurst, M. M. (1997). Gender differences in mediation of severe occupational stress among correctional officers. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 22, 212–237.Google Scholar
  35. Jacobs, J. B., & Crotty, N. (1983). The guard's world. In J. B. Jacobs (Ed.), New perspectives on prisons and imprisonment. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Jurik, N. C., & Winn, R. (1987). Describing correctional-security dropouts and rejects. An individual or organizational profile? Criminal Justice and Behavior, 14, 5–25.Google Scholar
  37. Kahn, R. L., & Boysiere, P. (1994). Stress in organizations. In M. D. Dunette, J. M. Hough, & H. C. Triandis (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 573–650). Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologist Press.Google Scholar
  38. Karasek, R., & Theorell, T. (1990). Healthy work: Stress, productivity and the reconstruction of working life. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  39. Kiely, J., & Hodgson, G. (1990). Stress in the prison service: The benefits of exercise programs. Human Relations, 43, 551–572.Google Scholar
  40. Kommer, M. M. (1990). Werken met mensen: Een onderzoek naar de werksituatie en functioneren van penitentiaire inrichtingswerkers [Working with people: A study on the working environment and the functioning of COs]. The Hague: Ministry of Justice.Google Scholar
  41. Kommer, M. M. (1993). A Dutch prison officers work: Balancing between prison policy, organizational structure and professional autonomy. The Netherlands Journal of Social Science, 29, 130–143.Google Scholar
  42. Klofas, J., & Toch, H. (1986). The guard subculture myth. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquecy, 19, 238–254.Google Scholar
  43. Lasky, G. L., Gordon, B., & Strebalus, D. J. (1986). Occupational stressors among federal correctional officers working in different security levels. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 13, 317–327.Google Scholar
  44. Launay, G., & Fielding, P. J. (1989). Stress among prison officers: Some empirical evidence based on self report. The Howard Journal, 28, 138–147.Google Scholar
  45. Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Leiter, M. P. (1993). Burnout as a developmental process: Consideration of models. In W. B. Schaufeli, C. Maslach, & T. Marek (Eds.), Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research (pp. 237–250). Washington: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  47. Levi, L. (1987). Definitions and the conceptual aspects of health in relation to work. In R. Kalimo, M. A. El-Batawi, M., & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Psychosocial factors at work and their relation to health. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  48. Lindquist, C. A., & Whitehead, J. T. (1986). Burnout, job stress and job satisfaction among Southern correctional officers. Journal of Offender Counseling, Services and Rehabilitation, 10, 5–26.Google Scholar
  49. Lombardo, L. X. (1981). Occupational stress in correction officers: Sources, coping strategies, and implications. In E. Zimmerman & H. D. Miller (Eds.), Corrections at the crossroads. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  50. Lombardo, L. X. (1989). A comparative study of correctional management. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 902–904.Google Scholar
  51. Maslach, C. (1993). Burnout: A multidimensional perspective. In W Schaufeli, C. Maslach, & T. Marek (Eds.), Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research (pp. 19–32). Washington: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  52. Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (1997). The truth about burnout. How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  53. Maslach, C., Letter, M. P., & Jackson, S. E. (1996). MBI: Maslach Burnout Inventory: Manual research edition. Palo Alto: University of California, Consulting Psychologists Press (1st ed. 1981; 2nd ed. 1986).Google Scholar
  54. Maslach, C. & Schaufeli, W. B. (1993). Historical and conceptual development of burn-out. In W. B. Schaufeli, C. Maslach, & T. Marck (Eds.), Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research (pp. 1–16). Washington: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  55. Morrison, D. L. Dunne, M. P., Fitzgerald, R., & Cloghan, D. (1992). Job design and levels of physical and mental strain among Australian prison officers. Work & Stress, 6, 13–31.Google Scholar
  56. Patterson, B. L. (1992). Job experience and perceived job stress among police, correctional and probation/parole officers. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 19, 260–285.Google Scholar
  57. Peeters, M. C. W., Buunk, A. P., & Schaufeli, W. B. (1995). Social interaction processes and negative affect among correctional officers: A daily event-recording approach. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 1073–1089.Google Scholar
  58. Philliber, S. (1987). Thy brothers keeper: A review of the literature on correctional officers. Justice Quarterly, 4, 9–37.Google Scholar
  59. Pollack, C., & Sigler, R. (1998). Low levels of stress among Canadian correctional officers in the northern region of Ontario. Journal of Criminal Justice, 26, 117–128.Google Scholar
  60. Poole, E. D., & Regoli, R. M. (1980a). Work relations and cynicism among prison guards. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 7, 303–314.Google Scholar
  61. Poole, E. D., & Regoli, R. M. (1980b). Role stress, custody orientation and disciplinary actions. Criminology, 18, 215–226.Google Scholar
  62. Poole, E. D., & Regoli, R. M. (1981). Alienation in prison; An examination of the work relations of prison guards. Criminology, 9, 251–270.Google Scholar
  63. Rosefield, H. A., Jr. (1981). Self-identified stressors among correctional officers. Unpublished PhD thesis, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.Google Scholar
  64. Quick, J. C., Quick, J. D., Nelson, D., & Hurell, J. J. (1997). Preventive stress management in organizations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  65. Saylor, W. G., & Wright, K. N. (1992). Status, longevity, and perceptions of the work environment among Federal prison employees. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 17, 133–160.Google Scholar
  66. Schaufeli, W. B., & Enzmann, D. (1998). The burnout companion for research and practice: A critical analysis. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  67. Schaufeli, W. B., Van den Eijnde, R. J. J. M., & Brouwers, H. M. G. (1994). Stress en burnout bij penitentiaire inrichtingswerkers [Stress and burnout among COs]. Gedrag & Organisatie, 7, 216–224.Google Scholar
  68. Shamir, B., & Drory, A. (1981). A study of cross-cultural differences in work attitudes among three groups of Israeli prison employees. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2, 267–282.Google Scholar
  69. Shamir, B., & Drory, A. (1982). Occupational tedium among prison officers. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 9, 79–99.Google Scholar
  70. Slate, R. N., & Vogel, R. E. (1997). Participative management and correctional personnel: A study of the perceived atmosphere for participation in correctional decision making and its impact on employee stress and thoughts about quitting. Journal of Criminal Justice, 25, 397–408.Google Scholar
  71. Stalgaitis, S. J., Meyers, A. W., & Krisak, J. (1982). A social learning theory model for reduction of correctional officer stress. Federal Probation, 46, 33–41.Google Scholar
  72. Toch, H., & Klofas, J. (1982). Alienation and the desire for job enrichment among correctional officers. Federal Probation, 46, 35–44Google Scholar
  73. Triplett, R., Mullings, J. L., & Scarborough. (1996). Work-related stress and coping among correctional officers: Implications from organizational literature. Journal of Criminal Justice, 24, 291–308.Google Scholar
  74. Ulmer, J. T. (1992). Occupational socialization and cynicism toward prison administration. Social Science Journal, 19, 423–443.Google Scholar
  75. Van der Klink, J. J. L., Blonk, R. W. B., Schene, A. H., & van Dijk, F. J. H. (1999). The benefits of interventions for work related stress. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  76. Verhaeghe, P. (1993). Werktevredenheid bij gevangenisbewaarders [Job satisfaction among COs]. Unpublished PhD thesis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.Google Scholar
  77. Verhagen, J. (1986a). Stress in de werksituatie van bewaarders [Job stress among COs]. Balans, 9, 20–22.Google Scholar
  78. Verhagen, J. (1986b). Persoonskenmerken van de bewaarder [COs' personality characteristics). Balans, 9, 3–5.Google Scholar
  79. Voorhis, P. van, Cullen, F. T., Link, B. G., & Wolfe, N. T. (1991). The impact of race and gender on correctional officers' orientation to the integrated environment. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 28, 472–500.Google Scholar
  80. Warr, P (1987). Work, unemployment and mental health. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  81. Whitehead, J. T. (1989). Burnout in probation and corrections. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  82. Whitehead, J. T., Linquist, C., & Klofas, J. (1987). Correctional officer professional orientation. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 14, 468–486.Google Scholar
  83. Wicks, R. J. (1980). Guard! Society's professional prisoner. Houston: Gulf Publications.Google Scholar
  84. Willett, T. C. (1982). Follow-up study of correctional officers and their partners in 1981. Unpublished communications branch report, Canada Solicitor General, Ottawa.Google Scholar
  85. Wright, T. A. (1993). Correctional employee turnover: A longitudinal study. Journal of Criminal Justice, 21, 131–142.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wilmar B. Schaufeli
  • Maria C. W. Peeters

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations