December 5, 2023

Transforming Correctional Staff Wellbeing with Innovative Technology 

6-min read

The escalating issue of mental health challenges among correctional staff has become a pressing concern within the criminal justice system. As custodians of order and safety in correctional facilities, these professionals deal with an array of stressors, from the ever-present potential for violence to the emotional toll of managing individuals in custody. 

The demanding nature of their responsibilities, coupled with prolonged exposure to high-stress environments, has contributed to a concerning rise in mental health issues. Studies have shown that correctional staff have a 39% higher suicide rate than any other workers. 

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Furthermore, correctional staff live about 12-16 years less than the general public. Recognising the significance of this problem is crucial not only for the well-being of the staff but also for the overall efficacy and sustainability of the correctional system. Addressing and mitigating mental health challenges requires comprehensive strategies, acknowledging the unique pressures of their roles, and implementing targeted interventions to support their mental resilience. 

In recent years, digital services have emerged as invaluable tools in enhancing the efficiency and safety of those working within correctional facilities. Leveraging innovative technologies, such as digital processing, online training, and virtual reality therapy, presents an opportunity to address and alleviate the mental health burden on correctional staff.  

Avoiding Burnout

Digitising processes in prison can significantly contribute to correctional staff’s mental health and well-being by streamlining workflows, reducing administrative burdens, and creating a more efficient and supportive work environment. Digitising processes eliminates much of the manual paperwork and administrative tasks that can be time-consuming and mentally taxing. Automated records-keeping, scheduling, and reporting systems enable staff to focus more on their core responsibilities, alleviating the stress associated with excessive paperwork. 

Automated processes save time, allowing correctional staff to allocate their energy more effectively. By reducing the need for repetitive, time-consuming tasks, digitisation enables staff to concentrate on critical duties, contributing to a more balanced workload and potentially decreasing stress levels. Moreover, digitised systems often offer remote access to essential information, allowing staff members to access databases, schedules, and updates from various locations. This flexibility can enhance work-life balance, enabling staff to manage their responsibilities more effectively and reducing the potential for burnout. 

The digitisation of processes in prison increases operational efficiency and directly contributes to correctional staff’s mental health and well-being. By minimising administrative burdens, improving communication, and providing access to real-time data, digitisation creates a more supportive and empowering work environment for those working in corrections.  

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Online Training and Skills Development 

Online training for correctional staff can serve as a powerful tool in improving mental health by addressing specific challenges and providing resources to enhance coping mechanisms. These programs can include modules on stress management techniques tailored to the unique demands of their work. Providing staff with practical strategies for identifying and mitigating stressors in their professional lives can empower them to better cope with the pressures of their roles.  

Further, improved communication and conflict resolution skills are crucial for reducing workplace tension. Online training can offer correctional staff insights into effective communication techniques, de-escalation strategies, and conflict-resolution methods. Enhanced interpersonal skills contribute to a healthier work environment and can alleviate mental strain. 

Illustration of two men creating a makeshift bridge with their bodies to solve a problem for a third man to cross over.

Online training can also educate correctional staff about mental health issues, helping them recognise signs of distress in themselves and their colleagues. Increasing awareness and reducing stigma surrounding mental health challenges create a more supportive workplace culture where staff feel comfortable seeking help when needed. 

Programs like MHS’ STRENGTH Corrections offer a practical and straightforward training solution that uses advanced psychological techniques (without the requirement of a mental health professional). Enhancing skills required to effectively cope in a stressful environment, prevent burnout, and save significant employer-related costs. Available online, STRENGTH is a self-paced program that helps with current problems and instils resiliency to approach future challenges. 

Providing training digitally offers correctional staff members opportunities for professional development. As they acquire new competencies, they are better equipped to perform their roles effectively, which can lead to career advancement and job satisfaction. The potential for improving their job prospects and skills benefits staff members and enhances the overall quality of the prison environment. 

Virtual Reality Therapy and Training 

Virtual Reality (VR) technology is emerging as a powerful tool in providing incarcerated individuals with more tailored and life-like experiences before release. Could VR also positively impact the well-being of those working within correctional facilities? 

VR technology can provide correctional staff with immersive experiences to reduce stress and enhance relaxation. Virtual environments that simulate serene landscapes, calming scenarios, or guided meditation sessions can be accessed during breaks or designated relaxation periods. These experiences temporarily escape the demanding prison environment, allowing staff to recharge and manage stress more effectively. 

An illustration showing a silhouette of a person using virtual reality to learn new skills.

VR applications can also focus on mindfulness and relaxation, offering correctional staff accessible tools for managing stress and promoting mental well-being. Virtual experiences that guide users through mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, or progressive muscle relaxation can be incorporated into daily routines, helping staff develop coping mechanisms for on-the-job stressors. 

Furthermore, VR simulations can replicate high-stress scenarios that correctional staff may encounter daily. These simulations serve as stress inoculation, allowing staff to practice and refine their responses in a controlled and immersive environment. This enhances their preparedness for real-life situations and contributes to a sense of confidence and resilience. 

A Transformative Future 

The intersection of mental health, digitisation, and the criminal justice system presents a unique opportunity for reform. By harnessing the power of technology, there is an opportunity for more effective mental health care and support. It will benefit all justice-involved individuals and contribute to the justice system’s safety and rehabilitation goals. 

By addressing the mental health needs of correctional staff, we take a significant step towards a more compassionate, equitable, and effective criminal justice system. This transformation is essential to ensure that the system serves as a platform for rehabilitation and support for all. 

LEARN MORE: MHS Public Safety
SEE PREVIOUS BLOG: Empowering Equality: Digital Services to Enhance Well-Being for LGBTQ+ Prisoners in Protective Custody