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Student Research | Correctional Officer Well-Being

An interview with Ciara Tenney, a graduate student and former undergraduate student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, on her research about correctional officer well-being. Read more about the project on News@Northeastern.

What are you researching?

Throughout my time at Northeastern I have been involved in a few research projects, mostly prominently Professor Natasha Frost and Professor Carlos Monteiro’s Correctional Officer Well-Being Study. In the spring of my first year I did a practicum so that I could work on the project while receiving course credit. My particular job at that point in time was to interview corrections officers in prisons around Massachusetts. The study has had multiple phases, two of which I have been involved with, so I have administered two different surveys during my time. The first was quite short, around 20 minutes, but the second was in-depth and took around 45-60 minutes to complete each one. Interviewing COs for hours on end was a difficult but rewarding task. Not only is talking for 60 minutes straight difficult, but the questions were deeply personal and touched on everything from mental health to family dynamics. I continued working on the project on and off into my fourth year, by which time I was doing data entry for the surveys in SPSS.

What led you to pursue this research?

I decided to get involved with the Correctional Officer Well-Being Project because I had Professor Monteiro for one of my classes and his discussions of the project sounded fascinating. I got to know Professor Monteiro a bit by attending his office hours every few weeks, and during one of these blocks of time, I asked him if I could work on the project. Mental health and well-being are extremely important to me, and I saw this as a great opportunity to work on a project that was breaking ground with research that has the potential to create change.

How has the research impacted you?

Through interviewing corrections officers in prisons, my socialization skills were put to the ultimate test – making the COs feel comfortable talking to me about their families, mental health, and lifestyles. Through working on this project I gained new insights into how prisons operate and how COs are affected by the stresses of their jobs.

What is the end goal of your research?

The end goal of this project is to develop an index to gauge CO stress levels and predict which officers are higher-risk for suicide. Massachusetts has the highest rate of CO suicide in the country and developing an index like this could be crucial for future suicide prevention. Additionally, policies to reduce officer stress may be proposed for the DOC.

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