From Soldiers to Staff Members: An Examination of Veteran Status Across Occupational Outcomes Within the Prison Context

Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 7, July 2022, 971 –990.
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© 2022 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
An Examination of Veteran Status Across
Occupational Outcomes Within the Prison Context
Texas State University
University of Louisville
University of Cincinnati
Some prison systems across the United States actively recruit veterans of the Armed Forces based on the idea that prior
military experience is an asset for prison work—a presupposition that has yet to be empirically validated. We examined
whether military experience is relevant in explaining variation in occupational outcomes in a statewide random sample of
prison staff in Kentucky. Results from a structural equation model (confirmatory factor analysis and multivariate regression
with latent constructs of job outcomes) suggest more similarities than differences between veteran and nonveteran prison
staff—a finding that also applies across veterans with different military backgrounds (based on branch of service, years
served, injuries sustained during service, etc.). Implications for theory and policy are discussed and suggestions for future
research are provided.
Keywords: military veterans; correctional staff; job stress; job burnout; job dissatisfaction; prison
Prisons are uniquely stressful working environments due in part to the task of supervising
offenders serving time for serious crimes and who may be uncooperative with staff
(Armstrong & Griffin, 2004; DeLisi, 2003; Griffin et al., 2012; Morgan, 2009). Staff must
also contend with limited resources, insufficient training, and administrative constraints.
Collectively, these factors result in high rates of turnover and are detrimental to correctional
organizations’ long-term goals (Denhof et al., 2014). Administrators have responded by
recruiting individuals with certain background characteristics that they believe will better
prison work.
AUTHORS’ NOTE: The authors thank all staff who participated. The findings, conclusions, and recommenda-
tions expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Kentucky
Department of Corrections. The authors have no funding or conflicts of interest to disclose. Data for the current
study come from a previous project supported by the Kentucky Department of Corrections. Correspondence
concerning this article should be addressed to Matthew W. Logan, School of Criminal Justice and Criminology,
Texas State University, 601 University Dr., San Marcos TX 78666; e-mail:
1076076CJBXXX10.1177/00938548221076076Criminal Justice and BehaviorLogan et al. / From Soldiers to Staff Members
One strategy has been to hire military veterans (Trigg, 2021). Both the military and
prison systems have been characterized as “total institutions” based on structure and order,
involve working long hours, and encourage a sense of composure and hypervigilance in
anticipation of danger. Veterans tend to have more experience with handling firearms, phys-
ical conditioning, and critical incident response than nonveterans (Reingle-Gonzalez et al.,
2019). Thus, prior military service could insulate staff from the difficulties associated with
prison work. The appeal in hiring military veterans may also be related to efficiency due to
having their background checks expedited and agencies may capitalize on word-of-mouth
recruiting from veterans who are already employed. Prior military service may also count
toward time served in an institution and employee pensions.
Despite structural similarities between military and prison systems, and preferences of
correctional agencies to hire veterans, there is scant research on the perceptions of veterans
employed in corrections. Contrary to the above, anecdotal evidence suggests that prior ser-
vice could be a potential liability, especially for those who have experienced combat and
trauma exposure leading to things such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Fleming
et al., 2013). Studies show that the working conditions of prison correspond with high rates
of PTSD among correctional staff, mirroring rates of PTSD among military veterans (~33%;
L. James & Todak, 2018). Thus, prior military service (especially for those who have expe-
rienced trauma during service) could enhance challenges posed by prison environments,
resulting in veterans faring worse than nonveterans.
Our focus is on differences in occupational adaptation between veteran and nonveteran
correctional staff in Kentucky. Whether veteran status serves as an asset or liability within
prison represent variations of the same assumption: Veterans are a distinct group. Both per-
spectives are based on the notion that the backgrounds of veterans should affect their ability
to work in prison, but they differ on how these effects should manifest.
The idea that prisons are demanding work environments is theoretically congruent with
the stress process paradigm (Pearlin et al., 1981). Advocates of this perspective link work-
place characteristics, such as lack of job autonomy and variety, to job burnout and dissatis-
faction (Dewe et al., 1993; Karasek & Theorell, 1990). The model assumes that organizational
dynamics determine job conditions, which in turn affect the psychosocial well-being of
employees. For instance, some jobs are complex and psychologically demanding, with high
levels of decision latitude that require workers to use individual skill sets. These job char-
acteristics can buffer the onset of stress (Griffin et al., 2012; Link et al., 1993). Conversely,
some jobs are characterized by dangerous work conditions and simple, routine skills where
employees have little to no control over any occupational aspect, which contributes to stress
(Van Der Doef & Maes, 1999). Prison work has been characterized as the latter: physically
and psychologically demanding where employee input is minimal or devalued and daily
tasks are monotonous, repetitive, and exacerbated by the omnipresent threat of danger at the
hands of incarcerated persons (IPs; Brower, 2013; Siennick et al., 2021).
IPs can be a source of stress among staff for many reasons. Data from the National
Institute of Justice show that IPs injure approximately 2,000 correctional staff annually
across the United States, whereas the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a fatality rate of 2.7
per 100,000 full-time correctional staff—40% of which are IP-related (Brower, 2013). Staff

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