Sources of Work Stress among Prison Officers

Benjamin Steiner
Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska, Omaha

Key Findings

  • Many prison officers in Ohio and Kentucky feel stressed at work.
  • Individual perceptions, like safety and job performance, affect the stress levels of officers.
  • Perceived safety, control over inmates and coworker support helps decrease work stress for prison officers.
  • Facility size, inmate population and inmate satisfaction with officers have no impact on officer stress levels in Ohio and Kentucky.


In the study, “Individual and Environmental Sources of Work Stress among Prison Officers,” Steiner collected data about work stress from officers, inmates and facility data from 42 state-operated confinement facilities in Kentucky and Ohio. Work stress is negative for employees and organizations across a variety of industries. Individual factors, including the number of job demands, can cause more stress.  Work stress was measured on six different points: job demands, perceived amount of time needed for demands, ideas about staff size needed for job demands, control (perceived over enforcement and inmates), support (from coworkers, from supervisors; measured in talks with co-workers and inmates/shift), and workplace safety. Demographic information was also collected. The results showed many prison officers in Ohio and Kentucky feel stressed at work (more than 50% of those surveyed), which is high compared to the 26-40% seen in the general public. Officer perception plays a large role in their work stress levels.

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