Correction Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness
Since 2015, Professor Frost and her research team have been working with the correction officers of the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC) to better understand the impacts of correctional work on officer safety, health, and wellness.
As we continue our work on this issue, the research team remains committed to making its findings available to the correction officers who work for the department and to the broader community. This webpage will serve as an ongoing public repository for the published papers, presentations, and reports related to our federally-funded officer wellness work.
Questions? Contact the research team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Between 2010 and 2015, at least 20 current or former correction officers who had worked for the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC) died by suicide. The average suicide rate for MADOC correction officers over this period was approximately 105 per 100,000 – a rate that is at least seven times higher than the national suicide rate (14 per 100,000), and almost twelve times higher than the suicide rate for the state of Massachusetts (9 per 100,000) (Frost, 2020). Some counties across Massachusetts also reported the loss of multiple officers to suicide over a similar period, suggesting the phenomenon in state prisons was being mirrored in county correctional facilities.
The Northeastern University research team initially learned of a growing suicide incidence among officers through interviews we were conducting with MADOC officers and sergeants who were taking part in an occupational stress study. During the interviews, a number of officers shared their concerns about the recent suicides of colleagues, with several noting that they themselves were only participating in the stress study out of concern about those officer suicides and the health and wellbeing of correction officers.
In 2016, Professors Frost and Monteiro were awarded a National Institute of Justice grant to conduct the first comprehensive mixed-method study of suicide among correction officers. That grant concluded in December 2020.
In 2020, Professor Frost was awarded a second National Institute of Justice grant to further that research through a longitudinal study of correction officer careers.
Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice; PhD Program Director
Professor Natasha Frost’s research and scholarship focuses broadly on punishment and social control and specifically on mass incarceration and the effects of incarceration on individuals, families, and communities. Much of her recent work has focused…
Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Professor Jacob Stowell’s research interests are guided by two general themes: communities and crime. More specifically, he is interested in the variation in patterns of violence across immigrant and non-immigrant neighborhoods. Most recently, …
Stacie St. Louis
Criminology and Justice Policy, PhD
Stacie St. Louis is a doctoral candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. She holds a M.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Northeastern and a B.A. in Legal Studies from the University of Massachus…
Criminology and Justice Policy, PhD
Jessica Trapassi is a doctoral student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. She holds an M.A. in Criminology from the University of South Florida and a B.A. in Justice Studies from Rhode Island College. Her di…
Criminology and Justice Policy, PhD
Jillian Reeves received her bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, with minors in psychology and Chinese studies. Prior to her doctoral candidacy, she co-authored a journal article about the role of adolescent developme…
Officer Wellbeing Projects Funded by the National Institute of Justice
- The Impact of Correctional Officer Suicide on The Institutional Environment and on the Well-Being of Correctional Employees. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice
In this project we were interested in the effects of correctional officer suicide on the well-being of correctional officers, particularly in terms of physical and emotional health and safety and on the climate in the institutional environment.
Given the unusually high rate of suicide among correctional officers in Massachusetts in recent years, we sought to identify patterns and trends in the personal and work histories of the officers who had died by suicide to better understand the situational context within which officer suicide had occurred. Our two overarching objectives in this study were to (1) identify risk factors for officer suicide and (2) address the impact of these tragic losses on the overall institutional climate and on the health and wellbeing of officers working f. As importantly, we also assessed the effects of the suicides on psycho-social well-being of those still working in the correctional environment.
- Turning Points in Correction Officer Careers: A Longitudinal Study of Occupational Stress, Trauma Exposure, Psychological Distress, and Suicide Risk among Correction Officers. (2020). National Institute of Justice Award 2020-R2-CX-0007. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice
For the Turning Points project, we are collecting longitudinal data that can further our understanding of the relationships between occupational and life stress, coping processes and social supports, and psychological distress and suicidal ideation among correction officers.
Almost all of the work on correction officer safety, health, and wellness, including our own, has been cross-sectional in nature. While this research has helped further our understanding of some of the key correlates of health and wellness, it has not been able to determine temporal ordering, establish causality, or explain changes over time. In the Turning Points project, we will overcome those limitations through the collection of the first three waves of longitudinal data across the first five years of a correction officer’s career.
Publications and Reports
- Frost, Natasha A. & Carlos E. Monteiro. (2020). The Interaction of Personal and Occupational Factors in the Suicide Deaths of Correction Officers. Justice Quarterly, 37(7), 1277-1302. (Available upon request: email@example.com). This article uses a grounded theory approach to develop a conceptual framework for understanding correction officer suicide. The article provides analyses of the qualitative interviews with friends and family members of officers who died by suicide.
- Frost, Natasha A., Carlos E. Monteiro, Jacob Stowell, Jessica Trapassi and Stacie St. Louis. (2020). Final Summary Overview: The Impact of Correction Officer Suicide on the Institutional Environment and on the Wellbeing of Correctional Employees. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice. This brief final summary overview prepared for the National Institute of Justice reviews key preliminary findings from the earliest analyses of the CO suicide project data.
- Frost, Natasha A. (2020). Understanding the Impacts of Corrections Officer Suicide. Corrections Today. (Available upon request: firstname.lastname@example.org). The first publication from the NIJ funded project on correction officer wellbeing and suicide. The article discusses preliminary findings from officer suicide case studies, with a specific focus on the methodologies used to investigate a highly sensitive issue with important implications for prison officials, staff, and their friends and family members.
- Frost, Natasha A., Carlos E. Monteiro, Stacie St. Louis, & Brad Luckett. (2019). Understanding Correctional Officer Stress: A Preliminary Report on Findings from Data Collected from the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Boston, MA: Northeastern University. Data in this report were drawn from a NIJ funded study of correction officer stress. Massachusetts was one of two sites for the CO stress study (the other state was Texas). Frost and Monteiro led the Massachusetts data collection effort and this report includes preliminary findings based on the Massachusetts data.
- Frost, Natasha A., & Carlos E. Monteiro. (2016). Administrative Segregation in US Prisons. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. A review of literature commissioned by the National Institute of Justice to provide an overview of what we know about the use of restrictive housing, including administrative segregation and solitary confinement across the United States.
News reports on MA CO Wellbeing and Suicide:
- WCVB: Alarming number of correction officers driven to suicide
- Corrections 1: Mass. sheriffs respond to corrections officer suicides
- WCVB: Correction officer’s family says state’s decision pushed him over the edge
- NIJ: Understanding the Impacts of Corrections Officer Suicide
- Northeastern News: This job has a high suicide rate. She wants to get to the bottom of the problem.
- WGBH: Massachusetts Implements Policies To Reduce Correctional Officer Suicides
- Northeastern SCCJ: Natasha Frost Receives Nearly $1M to Study High Rates of Suicide Among Correctional Officers