PTSD in Corrections Professionals

Health Writer

Corrections professionals didn't make the top 10 most stressful jobs. ABC News lists those as:

  • Enlisted Military Personnel
  • Military General
  • Firefighter
  • Commercial Airline Pilot
  • Public Relations Executive
  • Senior Corporate Executive
  • Photojournalist
  • Newspaper Reporter
  • Taxi Driver
  • Police Officer

It didn't make the top 10 most dangerous jobs either. CNN lists those as:

  • Fishermen
  • Loggers
  • Airline Pilots
  • Sanitation Workers
  • Roofers
  • Iron Workers
  • Farmers and Ranchers
  • Truckers and Deliverymen
  • Electrical Power Line-Men
  • Taxi Driver

Even so, correctional professionals have one of the highest, if not the highest, rate of PTSD according to research completed in 2012  by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach. Their survey showed PTSD rates for correctional officers at 27 percent. This is higher than estimates for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; the Face the Facts Initiative at George Washington University estimates that 1 out of 5 veterans, 20 percent, are diagnosed with PTSD. According to, rates of PTSD among firefighters are anywhere between 7 percent and 37 percent, depending on the particular study. In comparison, among the general population, about 3.5 percent have been diagnosed with PTSD and about 9 percent of adults exposed to a traumatic event develop PTSD.

Researchers surveyed almost 3,600 active corrections professionals from all over the country, although there was a large portion of respondents from the midwestern U.S. More than half (54.9%) were men, with an average age of 40.1. Almost three-fourths of the respondents were married or cohabitating. A little more than 40 percent of the respondents worked as security/custody personnel, around 11 percent worked in a management or supervisory position, approximately 10 percent worked as parole/probation personnel and the remaining worked in clerical positions.

All respondents indicated they had been exposed to an event involving violence, injury or death (VID) at some point in their career although those working in security reported being exposed to twice as many as those not working in security positions. All respondents showed an average of 28 VID events throughout their career.  The risk of developing PTSD increases with experiencing multiple traumatic events.

Some other specific results included:

  • For those working in security/custody positions, prevalence rates were 31 percent with all other staff having prevalence rates of 23 percent.
  • Within the general population, more women are diagnosed with PTSD than men, however,  within corrections professionals, the opposite is true. PTSD prevalence rates among male workers was 31 percent and female workers was 22 percent.
  • Those meeting the criteria for PTSD had more absenteeism, more doctor's visits and had more overall health problems than those who did not. On average, those with PTSD missed about 15 days of work per year, as compared to 8 days for those who did not show signs of PTSD.
  • Those meeting the criteria for PTSD indicated much higher tobacco and alcohol use.

Researchers believe that not enough attention has been paid to PTSD within correctional professionals, "To the extent that PTSD is not adequately recognized as a disorder with substantial penetration in corrections environments, a large number of corrections professionals are unlikely to receive needed treatment, with inescapable adverse consequences on employee performance, health and functioning." [1] The effects of PTSD certainly directly affect the employee but also indirectly the prison, the authors of the study point out. With an average of 7 additional sick days per year, facilities with 1,000 employees could be paying over $800,000.00 in sick time and additional salary to cover employee's time off.

Recognizing the severity of PTSD, actively assessing employee health and well-being and offering preventive services as well as on-going support can help correctional professionals to cope with the stress and events of their day-to-day responsibilities. Having a strong social support, inside of work and outside, as well as effective coping strategies following a traumatic event has been found to help to reduce the risk of developing PTSD.


"America's Most Dangerous Jobs," 2012, Sept 20, Les Christie, CNN Money

[1] "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in United States Corrections Professionals: Prevalence and Impact on Health and Functioning," 2012, Desert Waters Correctional Outreach

"Top 10 Most Stressful and Least Stressful Jobs," 2013, Jan 3, Susanna Kim, ABCNews

"What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?" Date Unknown, Staff Writer,