Prison Changed Me—and I Just Work There: Personality Changes Among Prison Officers

Published date01 March 2021
AuthorTomer Einat,Nina Suliman
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
The Prison Journal
2021, Vol. 101(2) 166 –186
© 2021 SAGE Publications
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DOI: 10.1177/0032885521991091
Prison Changed
Me—and I Just Work
There: Personality
Changes Among
Prison Officers
Tomer Einat1 and Nina Suliman2
This study examined the impact of prison officers’ time on the job on changes
in two personality factors, conscientiousness and agreeableness. The results
confirmed the hypotheses that after four years of work, there was a clear
interaction effect and significant difference between prison officers and the
control group regarding the personality factors examined. A downward
trend in conscientiousness and agreeableness was indicated, contrary to the
trend that characterized the employees in the control organizations. These
findings suggest a unique personality change among prison officers as a result
of their work, which could have a negative effect.
prison officers, personality, change, conscientiousness, agreeableness
Prison has been viewed as one of the most unique and extreme work envi-
ronments in terms of the nature of the job and the quality of the involved
population (Keinan & Malach-Pines, 2007; Lambert et al., 2009). This
1Bar Ilan University, Israel
2Israel Prison Service, Ramat Gan, Israel
Corresponding Author:
Tomer Einat, Department of Criminology, Bar-Ilan University, Bldg. 213, Room 437,
Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel.
991091TPJXXX10.1177/0032885521991091The Prison JournalEinat and Suliman
Einat and Suliman 167
all-encompassing, closed environment is characterized by numerous
difficulties and extraordinary pressures and by the physical, emotional,
and mental detachment of most of the inmates from the outside world
(Armstrong & Griffin, 2004; Walsh & Freshwater, 2009
Until three decades ago, most of the academic literature on imprisonment
focused on prisoners, with very little attention paid to prison staff (Bierie,
2012; Lambert et al., 2018a). Recent recognition of the relationship between
different stress factors associated with the work of prison officers, their physi-
cal and mental health, and their professional functioning has led to the devel-
opment of a relatively new and extensive field of research (Kinman et al.,
2017; McCraty et al., 2009). Studies have focused mainly on the characteris-
tics of the prison work environment that create stress and burnout (Hogan
et al., 2006) and how this affects the stress levels of officers (Dowden &
Tellier, 2004; Lambert et al., 2002; Lovell & Brown, 2017). Some have also
examined the impact of this stress on attitudes toward the job, absences, resig-
nations, burnout, and health (Schaufeli & Peeters, 2000). However, to date,
there has been no in-depth investigation of the effect of these characteristics at
a deeper level; that is, on the relationship between working in a prison and
personality change. The present research, which is a part of a larger study
examining the effects of employment as a correctional officer on personality
change, aims at addressing this gap by analyzing the possible relationship
between working as a prison officer and changes in personality, with an
emphasis on the personality factors of conscientiousness and agreeableness.1
Personality and Personality Change
A considerable part of the research on personality and personality change in
recent years has been based on the Big Five personality traits known as the
five-factor model (Lucas & Donnellan, 2011; Ludtke et al., 2011).According
to this model, personality is composed of five main traits: extroversion,
agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness to experiences
(Fisher & Robie, 2019; McCrae & Costa, 2003).2
The current study focuses on two of these personality factors: conscien-
tiousness and agreeableness. Conscientiousness (Havoosha, 2006) refers to
the individual’s style of performance and approach to tasks, work, and respon-
sibilities in general. Its subscales include self-efficacy, orderliness, dutiful-
ness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and cautiousness. Agreeableness
(Havoosha, 2006) refers to interpersonal orientation and expresses the balance
between a focus on oneself and a focus on others. Its subscales include trust,
morality/values, altruism, cooperation, modesty, and empathy. Research on
personality change over a lifetime has indicated a minor increase in the factors

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