Workplace Safety: Perceived Dangerousness Versus Experienced Fear Among Community Corrections Personnel

AuthorGayle Rhineberger,Kristin Y. Mack
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 11, November 2022, 1618 –1636.
Article reuse guidelines:
© 2022 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
Perceived Dangerousness Versus Experienced Fear
Among Community Corrections Personnel
University of Northern Iowa
Little research has assessed community corrections staff members’ perceptions of the dangerousness of their job or experi-
ences that make them fear for their safety. Although not the same as a prison environment, there are nonetheless dangerous
aspects of working with probationers and parolees in community corrections. The purpose of this study is first to determine
predictors of both perceived dangerousness and experienced fear among a sample of probation/parole officers and residential
officers. Then we assess the differential impact of perceived dangerousness and experienced fear on the negative workplace
outcomes of burnout (comprised of three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplish-
ment), secondary trauma, job stress, and job satisfaction. The findings indicate both overlapping and distinct predictors of
perceived dangerousness and experienced fear. Also, higher perceptions of job dangerousness were associated with lower job
satisfaction, while more experienced fear was related to greater emotional exhaustion and secondary trauma.
Keywords: probation; burnout; trauma; community corrections; job satisfaction
Community corrections is the most common sentencing outcome in the United States. In
addition, most individuals who are incarcerated (95%) leave prison and return (80%) to
their community while on parole (Hughes & Wilson, 2003). Staff working in community
corrections are most likely aware that they are working with both lower-risk people as well
as violent individuals who are released from prison while on parole. Although they work
with a population of individuals who have been convicted of a crime, where rule enforce-
ment is part of the job, the larger expectation of community corrections staff is generally
AUTHORS’ NOTE: This project was supported in part by a University of Northern Iowa’s College of Social
and Behavioral Sciences Small Project Grant and a Graduate College Summer Fellowship. Correspondence
concerning this article should be addressed to Gayle Rhineberger, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and
Criminology, University of Northern Iowa, 1227 West 27th Street, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0513; e-mail: Gayle.
1105207CJBXXX10.1177/00938548221105207Criminal Justice and BehaviorRhineberger, Mack / WORKPLACE SAFETY
Rhineberger, Mack / WORKPLACE SAFETY 1619
considered to be a focus on rehabilitation. A majority of community corrections work takes
place in offices or on home visits in the community rather than a locked penal institution.
Nonetheless, there are workplace safety concerns for community corrections that we some-
times overlook. Those who apply to work in community corrections may not have the same
expectations or assumptions about the general dangerousness within their work environ-
ment as do, for example, institutional correctional officers.
Research on correctional officers has long suggested that perceptions of job dangerous-
ness affect the ways in which these officers conduct their work (Garcia, 2008; Haynes et al.,
2020), as well as influence experiences they have with negative workplace outcomes such
as job stress, burnout, and secondary trauma (Cullen et al., 1985; Haynes et al., 2020).
When perceived dangerousness is considered in this regard, it is typically measured as more
of a subjective assessment of the potential risks of the institutional corrections job environ-
ment as it compares to other work environments, and is often found to be a significant
predictor of other workplace outcomes. Although clearly impactful, this perception-based
measure omits a potentially more important experiential element, one that taps into feelings
of fear/fearfulness while working directly with clients (e.g., being frightened by something
a client has said or done). As discussed by J. A. Gordon et al. (2003, 2013), the conceptual
difference between the two variables can be explained in that “perceptions of danger are
cognitive and more generalized/pervasive, while fear/risk is affective and likely more tar-
geted and focused on particular sources” (Lambert et al., 2018, p. 217).
Although there is little corresponding literature assessing workplace safety concerns
among community corrections staff, researchers have begun to consider this issue, with
some of these studies including a measure of perceived dangerousness, while others do not.
Most recently, research in this area has also included a variable that captures interactions
with clients that result in some level of fear experienced by staff. This may occur both when
staff are physically harmed by something a client has done to them or when a client threat-
ens them or their loved ones with bodily harm, as these threats raise the potential for injury.
When both perceived dangerousness and experienced fear are included in the same model,
one study found that experienced fear has an impact on workplace outcomes while per-
ceived dangerousness does not. Mack and Rhineberger-Dunn (2021) found that experi-
enced fear, but not perceived dangerousness, had a significant effect on burnout among
community corrections staff. These findings show a need for further assessment of whether
a subjective measure of perceived dangerousness or a more tangible measure of dangerous-
ness by way of experienced fear has more of an impact on negative workplace outcomes.
Given the importance of perceived dangerousness in predicting negative workplace out-
comes, it is important to first assess what predicts perceptions of the job as being dangerous.
Although there have been a handful of studies that assess predictors of perceived danger-
ousness (Lambert et al., 2018) or fear of victimization, a variable measured similarly to
perceived dangerousness (J. A. Gordon et al., 2003, 2013), among correctional officers,
currently no studies have evaluated the antecedents of experienced fear among community
corrections staff. Although the level of potential danger and experienced fear may not be the
same in community corrections as it is in institutional corrections, it nevertheless exists and
needs more empirical attention.
Within this context, the purpose of the present study is three-fold. First, we establish if
perceived dangerousness and experienced fear are two distinct dimensions of workplace
safety concerns. Second, we explore the predictors of both perceived dangerousness and

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