The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) piloted a new phone line to allow staff to speak directly with mental health services behind the walls.
The pilot allows corrections employees within SCI Albion to call a State Employee Assistance Program (SEAP) counselor directly through a designated phone number without having to go through the institutional operator/switch board. SEAP is a free assessment and referral service for commonwealth employees and their families to aid in resolving problems like substance abuse, mental health, family issues, financial issues, legal issues and medication. Before this pilot, employees had to access SEAP through the website, a personal phone, by HR referral or with an outside phone line within the institution by dialing the operator. Now an internal restricted phone line at SCI Albion will be able to dial four 3's (3333) to directly access the SEAP Hotline.
Direct and immediate access to mental health counselors and services is crucial for individuals who work in corrections as they are exposed to high levels of violence and stress making corrections an emotionally demanding career. Mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are increasingly high among people in corrections. A 2018 report published by the UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy on the health and wellness of more than 8,000 criminal justice personnel in California concluded the following about the lives of Corrections Officers (COs):
- COs experience violence at roughly the same rates as military vets.
- 48 percent of COs fear they will be injured on the job.
- 73 percent of COs have seen someone be seriously hurt or killed on the job.
- 1 out of 9 actively working COs experience suicidal ideation and 1 out of 7 retired COs experience suicidal ideation
- 1 out of 3 COs have experienced at least one symptom of PTSD, which is higher than the rate combat vets experience PTSD (1 in 7).
The risk of suicide is dangerous and far too prevalent for corrections employees. A 2017 study run by the Council for State Government (CSG) Justice Center found the risk of suicide is 39 percent higher for people working in a corrections field as compared to a non-corrections job field (Fryer). For this reason, it's imperative the PADOC offer mental health services that are easily accessible to staff but are also effective.
Although the PADOC offers assistance through peer support programs and SEAP, not all PADOC employees have taken advantage of these services due to the "stigma" around asking for help and the fear of experiencing repercussions in the workplace.
This stigma around reaching out is common among corrections employees across the country. UC Berkeley's 2018 report also found: "only 18 percent of criminal justice employees reported ever having used the California Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and only 3 percent say they have made use of the Peer Support Volunteer program" (Lerman). Through this research Berkley found the number one reason individuals who work in corrections or criminal justice did not reach out is because they were worried about privacy.
The goal of this pilot is to maintain the privacy of outreach. By doing this the PADOC hopes to help more corrections employees feel comfortable enough to utilize SEAP. Within the first month of the pilot the amount of calls being made to SEAP from inside SCI Albion increased by 20 percent.
This service was proposed by SCI Albion's Chad Martini, through the PADOC IDEA Program. IDEA stands for Innovate, Develop, Experiment, and Adapt and the program is a suggestion box where PADOC staff members can submit ideas about how to improve a process or outcome in their jobs or the PADOC as a whole. Submissions are analyzed by the PADOC's Innovative Practices Committee and assigned to Lean or BetaGov. Lean focuses on improving an overall process in order to make it more efficient while BetaGov focuses on improving overall outcomes through randomly controlled trials. All submissions made to IDEA are considered. Martini's submission was assigned to the Lean track because it adapts the actual SEAP contacting process making it more efficient and more appealing to the staff members who need it.
"We are just beginning to understand the huge range of mental and physical health issues that can result from exposure to violence and untreated toxic stress in the workplace. Agencies around the country are starting to look for ways to better support personnel" says Amy Lerman, the author of the UC Berkeley's 2018 criminal justice personnel study. Many criminal justice agencies and organizations across the nation are beginning to recognize the importance of staff wellness and they are putting programs and policies in place to help their staff. The PADOC values the health and wellbeing of every employee and the PADOC strives to continue to improve the overall work environment and services provided to staff every day.
Fryer, Ashleigh. "'We're Human': A Corrections Officer's Struggle with the Stress of the Job." CSG Justice Center, Council of State Government, 14 Aug. 2017
Lerman, Amy and UC Berkeley. "Correctional Officers at High Risk for Depression, PTSD, Suicide, Survey Finds." Berkeley News, UC Berkeley News, 23 Aug. 2018
Submit your Lean ideas to the Innovative Practices Committee Today!