Q&A with Sheriff John Boyd: Navigating Challenges and Prioritizing Wellbeing in Correctional Facilities

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In this illuminating Q&A session, Sheriff John Boyd, a seasoned veteran with over thirty years of experience in law enforcement and correctional facilities, delves into the intricacies of prioritizing the wellbeing of correctional officers.

Drawing from his rich background, Sheriff Boyd offers invaluable insights into the multifaceted challenges faced by correctional officers and provides actionable strategies for enhancing their physical, mental, and emotional wellness. From the pressing need to create environments that foster staff wellbeing to the importance of addressing burnout and promoting a sense of community within correctional facilities, Sheriff Boyd’s expertise shines through as he navigates through the complexities of the corrections landscape.

Whether you’re a correctional officer seeking guidance, a facility administrator striving to improve staff morale, or an advocate for positive change within the corrections system, this blog promises to equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the challenges and prioritize the wellbeing of those working tirelessly to uphold safety and security within correctional facilities.

John sat with Utility’s Blog Editor to answer a few questions:

Sheriff (Ret.) John Boyd pictured during his time working with the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana

A: Challenges that most correctional officers face are the lack of time or failing to prioritize their own well-being. They are accustomed to taking care of the needs of others and often neglect their own; or simply do not recognize the importance of their own wellness. It is important for administrators to create an environment that promotes wellness among staff and invest in the most important resource of the organization: Its employees.

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A: Prioritizing physical and mental wellness is an investment that is noticed and appreciated by rank and file. This will help to improve morale and promote a more positive and service-oriented staff. Correctional officers who are positive tend to be more professional and attentive to their duties. Inmate populations sense the professionalism and positivity of staff and are treated more patiently and humanely which leads to more positive staff/inmate interactions and reduced adversarial relationships. Reductions in conflict promote a safer environment for staff and inmate populations.

A: Examples of initiatives and programs implemented in correctional facilities that are aimed at promoting and supporting mental and emotional health of correctional officers include integrating faith-based volunteers and specially trained professionals during shift hours to work side-by-side with correctional staff during their everyday routine with the goal of building rapport and trust and help provide guidance for critical incidents and stressors brought on by work. Many agencies have introduced comfort animals in the workplace to reduce stress and anxiety. Comfort animals can help to improve correctional environments for employees and those who are incarcerated. Creating and promoting peer support groups for correctional employees is often utilized as it is important that employees have an opportunity to discuss their stressors. Of equal importance is for employers to destigmatize mental health conditions and promote mental health awareness and make help readily available and completely confidential.

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A: Maintaining a balance and need for security and order within a correctional facility while maintaining a goal of promoting the wellbeing of incarcerated individuals should not be a fine line. It is difficult to have one without the other. Inmates can be treated with respect and dignity while acknowledging their potential for danger. Inmates who are treated with dignity and respect can be less volatile and less likely to act out toward staff or fellow detainees. Keeping them occupied and well-fed can be simple solutions to better behavioral management. The motto: “It is better to feed them than fight them” is so true and can keep administrators out of court, keep employees and inmates safer, and improve the overall morale of the facility.

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A: Training and education are vitally important to the growth and professionalism of staff. Training in diversity, cultural awareness, de-escalation, conflict resolution, managing stress and anxiety and promoting resiliency are very important topics for continuing education. These example topics will help to build empathy among the work force and how to manage others and the stress that comes with dealing with problem individuals.

A:  Making mental health professionals, critical incident debriefing teams and supporting peer support groups for more readily available can help correctional facilities better address the unique mental health needs of officers and inmates. Where appropriate, the introduction of comfort animals can be beneficial to reduce stress and lower anxiety as well.

A: Several strategies have been introduced in correctional facilities to reduce the effects of burnout among correctional staffs and have aided in improving retention and job satisfaction. They include improving the work satisfaction of employees, improve and deminstrate the organizational commitment to the employee, improve the quality and opportunity of training for the employees, improve working conditions for the employees such as a lesser demand for more work hours,improving pay and benefits and increasing safety measures, and better screening measures for new hires.

A: Correctional facilities can promote a sense of community and support among staff members and foster a work environment that values and prioritizes the wellbeing of their employees by implementing several initiatives. They could include employee recognition and awards programs that highlight bravery, life-saving efforts, going above and beyond, achieving additional training and education, and maintaining positive and professional demeanors. Rewards could include news and social media releases highlighting exemplary employees, gift cards or compensatory days off with pay. Designating employees to serve as “ambassadors” to local service organizations can develop a sense of community involvement among staff while touting the organization from an employee’s perspective.

A: It is important that correctional administrators and supervisors be visible and accessible to staff and the inmate population. Walking to halls, cell blocks, infirmary, kitchen and talking to the staff and population demonstrates that the leadership of the facility cares. Actively listening is one of the most empathetic things that an administrator can do. Ensuring that training in diversity, cultural awareness, de-escalation, conflict resolution and stress management is easily attained and provided is important as well as correctional officers must have access to training that enables them to more adequately deal with key issues pervasive within a correctional setting. For the inmate population, it is important to provide well balanced, nutritious food tastes good and is satisfying. Easy access to educational, legal and religious material is also very important, as is the access to professional medical care that satisfies the inmate’s needs (not their wants). Access to a reliable grievance system and communication with their family will also aid in quelling inmate complaints.

Overcrowding can create substantial liability and create stress for staff and inmates. While correctional administrators rarely have the luxury of reducing populations themselves, establishing a rapport with prosecutors, defense counsels and judges can be beneficial when a need arises to reduce the population. It is imperative that facilities not be overcrowded so that it is easier and safer to segregate, isolate and quarantine.

A: Significant steps must be taken by federal and state governments to improve correctional facilities. Investments and access to additional funding must be made and become more available. Additional funding must be earmarked to reduce overcrowding, improve infrastructure, improve pay and benefits for correctional staff, improve and mandate their training, improve spaces for the incarcerated and improve access to quality medical care, legal and educational material, better quality of meals and communication with family. As a nation, we must ensure that inmates are released in better condition than when they were first incarcerated.

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