In September, the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) hosted its Jail Issues & FTO Conference, an event designed to spotlight the common obstacles facing jails in Tennessee and ongoing efforts to remedy them across the state. Guest speakers included members of the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI), who attended to spotlight their ongoing efforts to promote jail staff wellness in collaboration with TCI.

CJI Director Barbara Pierce and Senior Policy Specialist Abigail Strait co-presented on the health impacts of the corrections environment on staff and strategies for correctional staff wellness to improve staff wellbeing. Jail environments are commonly affected by three stressors: occupational, operational, and organizational. These encompass the variety of stressors jail staff face, including exposure to violence and traumatic events at work, short staffing and accompanying overtime, and workplace cultures that discourage seeking mental health and other help when its needed. Then there are the issues at home that may be caused by or contribute to problems at work, such as financial and marital stress. All of these factors can have a significant impact on the way jail employees interact with colleagues and how they engage with the people incarcerated.

Pierce and Strait highlighted several types of wellness programs jails can use to improve the health and wellness of staff, and the scant research on some of these practices. One type of program they discussed is the establishment of peer support officers. The training for this was developed by CJI and TCI, with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, and offered to jails across Tennessee. Pierce and Strait described these efforts, and steps jails can take to implement this and other wellness programs. Attendees of the presentation were leaders and staff from jails across the state of Tennessee and, in addition to interacting with the presenters, attendees also shared resources and practices with each other.

“TCI has been a great partner to CJI and to jails across the state,” said Barbara Pierce. “TCI’s support and commitment to creating more opportunities for employees’ personal wellness and professional success in both urban and rural communities is expected to result in greater retention and improved correctional practice as well.”