Stress is a natural by-product of working in the field of corrections. Correctional professionals work both behind prison walls and within our communities 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 assist its employees and their families in dealing with this challenging environment, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers put in place in 1985 a Peer Support Team (formerly called the Stress Team), comprised of 15 staff members and one Clinical Supervisor who are on call 24 hours a day, 7 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.
Richard Bailey of Bailey Associates in North Scituate, is the Clinical Supervisor of the Peer Support Team. The team networks with the following companies, hospitals, or clinicians for extended care for employees: Adcare Hospital, Arbour Fuller Hospital, Butler Hospital, Bailey Associates, 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 who are dealing with financial hardship, in need of mortgage payment assistance, or seeking cancer support to outside agencies. The team works closely with the Rhode Island Peer Support Team.
Team members come from all three divisions – Institutions and Operations, Rehabilitative Services, and Administration. There are team members from each facility. The team makes its cell or home phone numbers as well as office numbers and shift, available to all of the RIDOC's over 1,300 employees via the department's Intranet site. The team recently completed three days of Basic Peer Support Training presented by the Rhode Island Regional Peer Support Team and Northern Rhode Island Community Services, Inc.
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 Peer Support Team co-coordinator John Lavery, Training Instructor with the department's Training Academy refers to the team as "unsung heroes." He says, "The work can't really be measured scientifically, but it is very fulfilling knowing we're making a difference."
Lavery's co-coordinator on the team is Correctional Officer Lieutenant Scott Lepizzera of the Intake Service Center. Says Lepizzera, "Being on the team is very rewarding, which makes up for the occasional sleepless night."