The Development of Prison Officers’ Job Satisfaction and its Impact on Depersonalization of Incarcerated Persons: The Role of Organizational Dehumanization

AuthorFlorence Stinglhamber,Nathan Nguyen,Maryse Josse,Stéphanie Demoulin
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 11, November 2022, 1600 –1617.
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© 2022 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
The Role of Organizational Dehumanization
Université catholique de Louvain
This article contributes to the literature on the antecedents and consequences of prison officers’ job satisfaction. First, we
argue that organizational dehumanization (i.e., employees’ perceptions of being treated as tools by their organization)
explains how work environment factors determine job satisfaction. Second, we propose that the role played by organizational
dehumanization in the development of job satisfaction carries over depersonalization of incarcerated persons. The study
(N = 357 Belgian prison officers) supports the mediating role of organizational dehumanization in the relationships between
four work environment factors (organizational justice, appropriateness of material resources, quality of the physical environ-
ment, and perceived organizational support compared with that of the persons who are incarcerated) and job satisfaction. In
addition, the findings indicate that prison officers’ perception of being dehumanized by their prison trickles down in the
development of depersonalized relationships with incarcerated persons, and this effect is mediated by prison officers’ job
Keywords: prison officers’ job satisfaction; work environment factors; organizational dehumanization; depersonalization;
incarcerated persons
Job satisfaction (JS) is a concept studied across a variety of work contexts and the prison
environment makes no exception. Research on prison officers’ JS has shown that this
employee attitude plays a pivotal role in penitentiary live. On one hand, a great deal of
attention has been devoted to identifying its antecedents (for a review, see Lambert et al.,
2002). In particular, research has provided evidence of the strong influence of factors related
AUTHORS’ NOTE: We have no known conflict of interest to disclose. This work was supported by ARC under
grant no. 16/20-071 of the French Community of Belgium awarded to the first and the last author. Correspondence
concerning this article should be addressed to Florence Stinglhamber, Université catholique de Louvain, Place
Cardinal Mercier, 10, L3.05.01, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; e-mail:
1087182CJBXXX10.1177/00938548221087182Criminal Justice and BehaviorStinglhamber et al. / ORGANIZATIONAL DEHUMANIZATION
to prison officers’ work environment (e.g., role stressors, job autonomy, etc.). What is not
clear at this point, however, are the underlying mechanisms through which work environ-
ment factors operate. In this article, we propose that organizational dehumanization (OD)
plays such a role.
OD refers to the experience of an employee of being “objectified by his or her organiza-
tion, denied personal subjectivity, and made to feel like a tool or an instrument for the orga-
nization’s ends” (Bell & Khoury, 2011, p. 170). Recent literature has shown that OD relates
to a myriad of consequences, among which reduced JS. In addition, research has also estab-
lished that OD varies as a function of work environment factors similar to the ones that act
as antecedents to JS (Bell & Khoury, 2016; Caesens et al., 2017, 2019; Taskin et al., 2019).
Consequently, we argue that an important cognitive mechanism explaining the relationship
between these antecedents and JS is the perception prison officers have that their peniten-
tiary institution treats them humanely, that is, OD. The first aim of this article is thus to
examine the mediating role of OD between prison officers’ JS and some of its work envi-
ronment antecedents.
On the other hand, previous research has shown that prison officers’ JS has significant
consequences and is therefore of the utmost importance to correctional administrators.
More precisely, scholars have reported that it affects prison functioning (e.g., turnover rate),
prison officers themselves (e.g., their health), but also their relationships with individuals
who are incarcerated (for a review, see Lambert et al., 2002). In addition to examining the
important role of OD in the decline of JS, we thus aim at further examining the conse-
quences of the OD-JS link on the way prison officers relate with people in custody and, in
particular, on their tendency to act with them in a depersonalized fashion. That is, we pos-
tulate the presence of a trickle process (Wo et al., 2019) whereby the dehumanizing treat-
ment prison officers perceive they receive from their organization (i.e., OD) is reproduced
on incarcerated persons (i.e., depersonalization) as a consequence of their decreased JS.
Indeed, JS has been shown to inversely relate to depersonalization practices in the prison
context (Lambert et al., 2015). The second aim of this article is thus to provide evidence for
a dehumanizing trickle effect in prison context and to assess the mediating role of JS in this
trickle process.
Research on JS among prison officers began several decades ago and has grown expo-
nentially since then (e.g., Cullen et al., 1985). Much efforts in this domain have been
devoted to the identification of its antecedents. Among these, evidence was found for effects
from both personal characteristics and work environment factors (Lambert et al., 2002). At
the personal level, scholars have, for instance, shown that demographic factors such as age,
race, or gender impact prison officers’ JS (Bravo-Yáñez & Jiménez-Figueroa, 2011; Cullen
et al., 1985; Jiang et al., 2018). However, as important as they are, these personal character-
istics tend to play a lesser role in determining prison officers’ JS than factors of the work
environment (e.g., Griffin et al., 2010; Jiang et al., 2018; Lambert & Paoline, 2008). The
latter include “the factors or characteristics that comprise the overall work conditions and
situations for an employee, both tangible and intangible” (Lambert et al., 2002, p. 125).
Because of their prevalent effects and because, contrary to personal characteristics, these
can be acted upon, we focus, in this article, on work environment factors that affect JS.

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