It is, at once, extremely sad and compelling.
On July 1, the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (S.O.C.F.) lost another officer to suicide. If you are counting, that makes five Officers who have committed suicide in a one year period. Three of the officers were currently working at S.O.C.F., one had just recently retired and one former officer, who committed suicide four weeks ago, was on probation and was recently removed when he ended his life, according to Randall Hiles, president of Local 7330 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA).
“The one officer that just killed himself received a two-day working suspension for absenteeism but he had every minute covered,” Hiles said. “I thought for sure it would be dropped. I’m no saying that’s the main reason he killed himself. I’m saying I know that he was really stressed out over that disciplinary issue. (DRC Director) Gary Mohr and (Managing Director of Operations) Ed Voorhies at the central office, I hope they look at this. I thought they would after the first suicide and take measures to stop this but nothing has been done.”
Hiles said DRC needs to take a “good hard look” at the situation.
“If there had been this many inmates who had committed suicide in a year’s time at one institution, they would have spent countless dollars – hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars – doing investigations to try to find out what the problems were,” Hiles said. “I only wish the DRC cared as much about the officers and line staff as they do the inmates in these situations.”
The Daily Times inquired of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) about the instances of suicide and were referred to a study by the Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a nonprofit corporation specializing in the health of corrections professionals, but not before offering a comment from ODRC.
“The well-being our of DRC staff, both on and off duty, is critically important and something that is taken very serious, JoEllen Smith of ODRC said. “We are in the process of reviewing and enhancing our staff wellness training. In addition to ongoing staff training and peer support, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is offered to all State of Ohio employees and we encourage staff to take advantage of the services offered through this program.”
Smith referenced the EAP at http://das.ohio.gov/Divisions/HumanResources/BenefitsAdministration/EAP.aspx.
According to the study, titled “Prevalence of Trauma-related health Conditions in Correctional Officers: A Profile of Michigan Corrections Organization members,” – Health condition rates were found to be substantially elevated relative to rates typical in the general population and for other public safety professions. Statistically significant relationships were found between level of work-related exposure to violence, injury and death (VID) events and mental health condition scores. Security level and years of corrections experience were found to moderate health condition rates significantly, with more years of corrections experience and higher security levels being associated with higher mental health condition rates.
The report also stated that “Pre-corrections military experience and gender demonstrated little to no effect upon mental health condition rates. These findings reinforce a growing perspective among researchers that corrections officers suffer health detriments due to high stress and potentially traumatic occupational experiences comparable to those more widely known to occur for police officers, firefighters and combat military personnel.”
The report goes on to say pre-corrections military experience and gender demonstrated little to no effect upon mental health condition rates.
According to the report, the findings reinforce a growing perspective among researchers that corrections officers suffer health detriments due to high stress and potentially traumatic occupational experiences comparable to those more widely known to occur for police officers, firefighters and combat military personnel.
Hiles said, after the latest suicide, he communicated with a deputy director who is over the labor relations part for the DRC.
“I emailed him after the last suicide and I requested that a cultural assessment be conducted on the staff at SOCF,” Hiles said. “What that would do is give all the officers and line staff the opportunity to vent their concerns, and tell what the problems they think at the institution are. And I think they’re going to try to side-step this. But if this is made public, they’re going to have to do a cultural assessment.”
Hiles said an employee of the Employee Assistance Program of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) came down to SOCF on Tuesday and was asking employees what the problems are that exist at the facility.
“I think they’re trying to avoid doing this cultural assessment,” Hiles said.
The DRC ended their response with – “In the wake of any critical incident, DRC leaders are empowered to activate critical incident stress management personnel who are trained to talk to staff and offer a confidential opportunity to talk about how that incident has impacted them personally. This assistance is offered immediately and available on an on-going basis. DRC has a very active and highly developed critical incident stress management team. We are all saddened by this tragic event and we are currently looking at opportunities to increase staff awareness of these resources.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.