PTSD and Suicide Amongst Prison Guards at Oregon State Penitentiary

New article from The Guardian highlights several officers at OSP – ‘Prison guards can never be weak’: the hidden PTSD crisis in America’s jails.

“…34% of corrections officers suffer from PTSD. This compares to 14% of military veterans. The suicide rate among corrections officers is twice as high as that of both police officers and the general public, according to a New Jersey police taskforce. An earlier national study found that corrections officers’ suicide risk was 39% higher than all other professions combined.”

The article interviews several correctional officers about PTSD, suicide rates, the culture of prison guards, and how DOC is (and isn’t) responding to this widespread problem.

It doesn’t discuss how guards’ PTSD affects how they treat inmates, the rates of PTSD and suicide amongst inmates (which are also very high), or whether prison as it is currently conceived is fundamentally capable of producing healthy outcomes for anyone involved.

For an examination of how prison affects the long-term mental health of inmates, read about Post Incarceration Syndrome and Relapse.

For a deeper look into the relationship between mental health and prison and why so many guards are dealing with inmate behaviors that are violent and traumatizing, read this article about how Obamacare could help by treating mental illness before people end up in prison. Here is an excerpt:

The “epidemic of incarceration over the last four decades,” as Josiah Rich, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University, and co-founder of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, puts it, can be mostly attributed to two diseases: addiction and mental illness. “The natural history of these diseases, when not treated, leads to behaviors that, in our society, result in incarceration,”…

…The last major study on mental health in prisons, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that 64 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons met the criteria for mental illness at the time of their booking or during the twelve months leading up to their arrest. For comparison, the rate of mental disorders among U.S. citizens stands at around 25 percent, according to the NIH. Sixty-nine percent of the country’s prison population was addicted to drugs or alcohol prior to incarceration.

The violence that is giving these guards PTSD is something that could be prevented by treating mental health issues before they escalate to criminal behavior in the first place–and by treating violence in general as a symptom of untreated trauma rather than as a moral failing. Trauma can be healed, but trying to “punish away the symptoms” just doesn’t work.

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