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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.

Public Repository

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 costudy@northeastern.edu.


Research Background

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.  

Research Team

Officer Wellbeing Projects Funded by the National Institute of Justice

  1. 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.
  2. 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: costudy@northeastern.edu). 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. (2020). Understanding the Impacts of Corrections Officer Suicide. Corrections Today. (Available upon request: costudy@northeastern.edu). 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.

Presentations

Partner Organizations


Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center