Stress is a natural by-product of working in corrections. Corrections is at the tail end of the criminal justice system, and corrections professionals work behind prison walls with those whom the rest of society has marginalized and largely ignores. Their work often goes unrecognized and some of what they see and experience in the course of a “normal day” is difficult for the average lay person to fathom. To assists its employees and their families in dealing with this challenging environment, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections has put in place a Stress Team, comprised of 17 staff members who are on calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The volunteer team operates in five different areas: referral, voluntary treatment, post-traumatic stress, education/training, and critical incident debriefing. Employees must feel safe to reach out to the team and to be able to trust each member. Members are sworn to confidentiality so much of their work, by necessity, goes unnoticed.
The RIDOC’s Stress Team networks with the following companies, hospitals, or clinicians for extended care for employees: Adcare Hospital, Arbour Fuller Hospital, Bailey Associates, Family Services of Rhode Island, Kent County Hospital, Meadows Edge Recovery, the Providence Center, Roger Williams Hospital, Starr, and Treatment Solutions Network located in Florida and California. The team has referred people to outside agencies who are dealing with financial hardship, in need of mortgage payment assistance, or seeking cancer support. The team works closely with the Rhode Island Peer Support Team.
Team members come from all three divisions – Institutions and Operations, Rehabilitative Services, and Administrative Services. There are team members from Human Resources as well as representatives from each security. The team makes its cell or home phone numbers as well as office numbers and shift, available to all of the RIDOC’s nearly 1,400 employees via the department’s Intranet site.
According to Caterina Spinaris Tudor, founder of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a non-profit for the well-being of correctional staff and their families, “Corrections is a difficult and stressful occupation and sooner or later most of us need to reach out for assistance to cope.”
RIDOC Stress Team co-coordinator Lisa Santagata, Supervisor of Training with the department’s Training Academy refers to the team as “unsung heroes.” She says, “The work we do is not measurable in a scientific way, but is very rewarding.” Santagata’s co-coordinator on the team is Correctional Officer Steward Charles Thomas of Maximum Security. Says Thomas, “The occasional sleepless nights are worthwhile knowing we are taking care of fellow employees.”