Abstract: (Withdrawn) "about the Brokenness, and the Darkness, and the Light": An Exploratory Study of the Effects of the Correctional Environment on Correctional Mental Health Professionals (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

(Withdrawn) "about the Brokenness, and the Darkness, and the Light": An Exploratory Study of the Effects of the Correctional Environment on Correctional Mental Health Professionals

Sunday, January 15, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Stephanie Gangemi, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, CO
Background: Those who have worked in correctional environments are aware of the powerful effects they can have on everyone within the walls, including mental health staff. Despite the critical role that correctional mental health professionals play in jails and prisons across the country, there is a paucity of academic research and literature on the experience of correctional mental health professionals. This presentation will explore the research design, findings, and recommendations of a phenomenological, qualitative study that explores how correctional mental health professionals perceive the effects of working in correctional environments on their lived experiences. The literature review presents numerous theoretical considerations on the experiences of correctional mental health professionals including burnout, trauma/secondary trauma, dehumanization, moral injury, corrections fatigue, and post-traumatic growth. Topics discussed include the rationale for the study, history of mass incarceration, theoretical foundation for the study, an overview of the findings with excerpts of the transcribed interviews, as well as a discussion on the thematic analysis of the study content and suggestions for enhancing the experience of mental health professionals working in correctional environments. The hypothesis for the study was that while “burnout” is often blamed as the primary challenge facing people working in correctional environments, the realities are more complex.

Methods: Individual, qualitative interviews were conducted with Master and Doctoral-level correctional mental health professionals in Colorado (n=22). Participants were obtained via purposive sampling, social media outreach, and snowball sampling. All semi-structured interviews were conducted through video and transcripts were sent to a transcription service. Interviews were coded using thematic coding in Atlas.ti by the researcher as well as a secondary coder.

Results: The findings of the study include thematic categories related to 1) the relationship between custody and mental health staff, 2) problems and solutions regarding clinical supervision, 3) emotional darkness and trauma, 4) professional isolation, and 5) the power of purpose/post-traumatic growth. Narrative excerpts from the participants are provided throughout to illustrate study themes. Study strengths and limitations, directions for future research and practice implications are also discussed.

Conclusions and Implications: The presentation will include a discussion of the conclusions of the study while offering ideas for problem-solving across different correctional facilities to improve conditions for correctional mental health professionals and people involved in the correctional system. The study found that there are ample opportunities to enhance the relationship between custody and mental staff in ways that are mutually empowering while enhancing the treatment and safety of incarcerated people. Improving trauma-informed supervision, building a foundational understanding of the prison industrial complex for staff, and integrating community oversight committees are among the suggestions for improving the experience of correctional mental health professionals.