A Model of Turnover Intent and Turnover Behavior Among Staff in Juvenile Corrections

AuthorJames B. Wells,Jennifer L. Tilley,Kevin I. Minor,Eric G. Lambert
Published date01 November 2016
Date01 November 2016
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17uvc9vMMBO9KG/input 645140CJBXXX10.1177/0093854816645140CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIORWells et al. / Turnover InTenT And Turnover BehAvIor
A Model of Turnover InTenT And
Turnover BehAvIor AMong STAff In
JuvenIle CorreCTIonS

Eastern Kentucky University
The University of Mississippi
American University
This study extended prior research on staff turnover in adult corrections to juvenile corrections by analyzing direct and indi-
rect interrelationships among personal, work environment, job attitude, and turnover variables. Data came from a mail survey
of youth worker staff as well as from agency archives. Race, age, tenure, input into decisions, and job stress had significant
direct effects on job satisfaction, while organizational commitment was directly affected by gender, stress, and satisfaction.
Tenure, satisfaction, and commitment directly affected intent, while only race and age directly affected actual turnover.
Satisfaction and commitment performed significant mediating functions. Results suggest that staff turnover intent can be
reduced by promoting job satisfaction and organizational commitment and, further, that these attitudes can be improved by
providing staff greater input into decisions and reducing job stress. Future research must specify conditions under which
intent predicts behavior, as the two were not significantly related in this study.
Keywords: correctional staff; turnover intent; job satisfaction; organizational commitment; juvenile justice staff
The magnitude and negative consequences of staff turnover are well documented in lit-
erature on correctional organizations. The average annual turnover rate in adult correc-
tions is around 20% and has been reported to sometimes exceed twice that (Lambert, 2001;
Lambert & Hogan, 2009b; Patenaude, 2001; K. Wright, 1994). The situation is no better in
juvenile corrections. An earlier study (T. A. Wright, 1993) reported annual turnover to be
almost 20% among detention workers, and a more recent one (Minor, Wells, Angel, &
Matz, 2011) found that approximately a quarter of newly hired staff resigned from state-
operated juvenile correctional facilities within the first year of being hired and trained.1 The
AuThorS’ noTe: This work was supported by funding provided through the Kentucky Department of
Juvenile Justice (DJJ) via contract PON2 523 0800009119. Other than funding, DJJ’s involvement was limited
to providing feedback on the survey instrument, with all other research activities being the sole responsibility
of the authors. The authors have no financial interest or benefit arising from direct applications of this research.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to James B. Wells, School of Justice Studies,
Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY 40515; e-mail: James.Wells@eku.edu.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2016, Vol. 43, No. 11, November 2016, 1558 –1579.
DOI: 10.1177/0093854816645140
© 2016 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology

problem is not limited to actual turnover but also includes employees wanting or planning
to quit their jobs, a cognitive process known as turnover intention. A study found that 11%
of staff working in one state’s juvenile correctional facilities intended to leave the agency
over the next year, other than for purposes of retirement (Matz, Wells, Minor, & Angel,
2012), while another found that a third of correctional officers at a state prison reported
being likely to leave their jobs in the coming 3 years (Minor, Dawson-Edwards, Wells,
Griffith, & Angel, 2009).
Staff turnover has deleterious effects for correctional agencies. Crews and Bonham
(2007) cited an annual turnover cost of over $21 million for one state department of correc-
tions. Minor et al. (2011) reported costs of turnover among new hires to exceed $4.5 million
based on estimated replacement costs of $31,000 per exiting employee. Lambert and Hogan
(2009b) estimated that combined costs of starting a new employee on the job in adult cor-
rections can be as much as $20,000. Cost figures like these assume added importance as
agency administrators grapple with pressures to prioritize scarce funds and contain expenses
amid fiscal shortfalls.
The costs of staff turnover in corrections are not restricted to the monetary realm.
Correctional organizations rely heavily on staff to accomplish their goals, which is why
Lambert (2001) pointed to staff turnover levels as a good barometer of correctional agency
effectiveness. Turnover can undermine effectiveness by creating personnel shortages, caus-
ing existing staff to be overworked, hampering staff morale, destabilizing daily operations,
and hurting the agency’s public image. For its part, turnover intent can be indicative of dis-
contented and non-invested workers who view their current job as a stopgap until better
employment materializes and who contribute minimally to the organization in the mean-
time—possibly while expending time and energy seeking alternative employment. When
issues like these are combined with the drain on monetary resources that turnover can exact,
it is not difficult to see how high turnover, once embedded in a relatively ineffectual organi-
zation, can beget more of the same (Minor et al., 2011; Mitchell, Mackenzie, Styve, & Gover,
2000). After all, resources expended in response to turnover (e.g., processing separations,
paying overtime to cover vacancies, training new staff, etc.) and turnover intent (e.g., picking
up slack for employees who want or plan to leave) are resources that cannot be devoted to
either (a) programming and services to promote offender betterment or (b) improvements in
pay, benefits, and work conditions that might better control staff turnover.
Of course, correctional agencies must occasionally separate select staff from their posi-
tions (e.g., those who abuse prisoners or coworkers), and this is why researchers distinguish
between voluntary and involuntary turnover (Price & Mueller, 1986). With the former, the
employee initiates cessation of his or her job (e.g., through resignation, retirement, or vol-
untary transfer), while with the latter, the agency does so (e.g., through layoff, firing, or
forced transfer). It turns out that voluntary turnover is more common in corrections than
involuntary turnover, and it is associated with more cost and disruption to the organization
because, disproportionately, it is likely to claim higher performing employees (Blakely &
Bumphus, 2004; Price, 1977; T. A. Wright, 1993). The good news is that an organization
can usually exert greater control over voluntary turnover because factors prompting invol-
untary turnover (e.g., budget cuts that result in layoffs and employee behavior that results in
termination) are less amenable to agency control.
For correctional administrators to best position themselves to control voluntary turnover
and turnover intention among their staff, knowledge is required of underlying dynamics.

Administrators need to know which personal characteristics of staff, which work environ-
ment factors, and what kind of job attitudes among workers are most related to staff leaving
(or wanting to leave) their jobs, as well as how these sets of variables relate to one another.
Without such information, turnover control efforts are likely to be fragmentary and even
misguided. Hence, this study builds on a limited volume of past research, especially the
work of Lambert and Hogan (2009b) in adult corrections which is most comparable to the
current study, to present and test a theoretical model of turnover intent and voluntary turn-
over among staff working in correctional facilities administered by the Kentucky Department
of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Based on prior research, the antecedents of turnover intent and
behavior posited by the model include staff personal characteristics (education, gender,
race, age, and tenure), work environment variables (staff perceptions of role ambiguity,
input into decision-making processes, job stress, organizational fairness, and job danger-
ousness), as well as the job attitudes of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
PrevIouS reSeArCh
Given the consequences of voluntary staff turnover in correctional organizations, remark-
ably little research has addressed the factors underlying the problem. Most research has
focused on staff working in adult rather than juvenile corrections (Byrd, Cochran, Silverman,
& Blount, 2000; Camp, 1994; Ferdik, Smith, & Applegate, 2014; Jacobs & Grear, 1977;
Jurik & Winn, 1987; Kiekbusch, Price, & Thesis, 2003; Lambert, 2006; Lambert & Hogan,
2009b; Lambert & Paoline, 2010; Leip & Stinchcomb, 2013; Minor et al., 2009; Simmons,
Cochran, & Blount, 1997; Slate & Vogel, 1997; Stohr, Self, & Lovrich, 1992). Only a hand-
ful of studies have examined juvenile corrections (Liou, 1998; Matz et al., 2012; Minor
et al., 2011; Mitchell et al., 2000; Tipton, 2002; T. A. Wright, 1993). This deficiency needs
to be addressed because there are differences between working in juvenile corrections and
working in adult prisons. In juvenile corrections, even staff who fill what are conventionally
regarded as custodial roles usually also have much responsibility for promoting rehabilita-
tion and the best interests of youth; the role is not exclusively (or...

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