Well-Being in Frontline Correctional Officers: A Mixed-Method Systematic Review

AuthorOlivia Miller,Dagmar Bruenig,Jane Shakespeare-Finch
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 11, November 2022, 1559 –1579.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00938548221098976
Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions
© 2022 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
A Mixed-Method Systematic Review
Queensland University of Technology
Correctional officers (COs) work in high-stress environments, frequently experience critical incidents and have shown high
levels of burnout. The current review synthesizes and evaluates literature on determinants of CO well-being. The review
followed the Joanna Briggs Institute approach for mixed-method systematic reviews. Eligible studies measured subjective or
psychological well-being in frontline COs. Studies of disorder absence or nonfrontline COs or associated professions were
excluded. Searches of psychology and criminal justice databases including PsycINFO (EBSCOhost) and Criminal Justice
(ProQuest) were completed in June 2021, and data were synthesized using a convergent segregated approach. A total of 29
studies were included and explored individual, interpersonal, and organizational determinants of well-being. Key themes
identified by thematic synthesis of qualitative research included job satisfaction, personal growth, and coping. COs can
experience well-being, however, further research into determinants of CO well-being is required.
Keywords: correctional officers; systematic review; well-being; life satisfaction
Frontline correctional officers (COs) work in correctional facilities and maintain security,
prison resident safety, and promote resident rehabilitation (Liebling et al., 2011). This
can be a highly challenging and dangerous work environment where COs are exposed to
occupational stressors (e.g., limited autonomy) and critical incidents such as riots, suicide
attempts, and abuse (Kunst, 2011; Spinaris et al., 2012). These working conditions can
negatively affect CO health (Harvey, 2014) and may also affect well-being.
There is no widely accepted definition of well-being (Dodge et al., 2012). Early well-
being research consisted of two perspectives: hedonism and eudemonism. The hedonic
AUTHORS’ NOTE: We have no conflicts of interest to disclose. Correspondence concerning this article
should be addressed to Olivia Miller, School of Psychology and Counselling, Queensland University of
Technology, 5th level, B Wing, O Block, Kelvin Grove, Queensland 4059, Australia; e-mail: olivia.miller@hdr.
1098976CJBXXX10.1177/00938548221098976Criminal Justice and BehaviorMiller et al. / Wellbeing In Frontline Correctional Officers
perspective viewed well-being as positive emotions, while the eudemonic perspective
viewed well-being as positive functioning (Dodge et al., 2012). Diener’s (1984) hedonic
model of subjective well-being (SWB) comprises the presence of positive affect, the absence
of negative affect, and the presence of life satisfaction. Overall, SWB refers to the experi-
ence of positive emotions, satisfaction with different domains of life (e.g., work, family,
self), and minimal negative emotion or mental illness. Ryff’s (1989) eudemonic psycho-
logical well-being (PWB) comprises six components of optimal functioning including self-
acceptance, positive relationships, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and
personal growth. A person with PWB is self-aware and accepting of themselves (self-
acceptance), connected with significant others (positive relationships), living in line with
their convictions (autonomy), competent in managing their life (environmental mastery),
living with direction and purpose (purpose), and improving themselves (personal growth;
Ryff, 2014). Both SWB and PWB were included in the current review.
Despite debate around the definition of well-being, it is widely accepted that well-being
is more than disorder absence (Dodge et al., 2012). Well-being cannot be established by the
absence of pathology alone and should include markers of health and positive functioning
(Keyes, 2005). This aligns with the salutogenic model of health (Antonovsky, 1996), which
considers well-being, or more broadly health, to be on a continuum ranging from dis-ease
to health-ease. The salutogenic model stipulates that an understanding of both disease and
health-ease is necessary to adequately promote health. Salutogenesis is the theoretical foun-
dation of the current review and provides a rationale for the need to understand CO
Limited research has explored the presence of CO well-being. CO well-being has been
predominantly operationalized as disorder absence (e.g., Bierie, 2012). The few studies that
have measured well-being have combined frontline COs with other prison staff without
controlling for position (Aube et al., 2009; Rousseau et al., 2008). Despite high levels of
pathology, prison staff more broadly have reported experiences of well-being and related
concepts such as job satisfaction (Butler et al., 2019) and resilience (Klinoff et al., 2018).
There is currently limited understanding of the determinants of CO well-being.
COs are at risk of mental and physical health problems including symptoms of burnout,
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, suicide, poor physical health,
sleep problems, and chronic pain (Carleton et al., 2019; Harvey, 2014; James et al., 2017;
Lambert, Hogan et al., 2015; Milner et al., 2017; Spinaris et al., 2012). These health prob-
lems have been associated with poor workplace outcomes like reduced performance, turn-
over, absenteeism, and poor treatment of prison residents (Dowden & Tellier, 2004; Lambert,
Hogan et al., 2015; Spinaris et al., 2012). Various risk factors influence CO experiences of
such health problems. As displayed in Figure 1, a socioecological approach can be used to
organize these risk factors into three groups: individual, interpersonal, and organizational
determinants of health (Bronfenbrenner, 1977; McLeroy et al., 1988).
Prior pathogenic research (excluded from the current review) has explored individual,
interpersonal, and organizational determinants of CO ill-health. Individual demographic
determinants such as age, sex, race, or education have shown weak or inconsistent effects
on CO psychopathology (Butler et al., 2019; Dowden & Tellier, 2004). Other individual

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