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Navigating the toxic terrain: Addressing bullying and power abuse in corrections

Unraveling the impact and proposing solutions for a healthier workplace culture

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By Shane Warnke

A toxic work environment, marked by power abuse and workplace bullying, is a serious issue in corrections. This kind of culture doesn’t merely breed hostility and stress, but also significantly hampers recruitment and retention. With national statistics revealing that one in four workers have experienced bullying at work, it’s evident that this problem extends beyond individual well-being and contributes to the heightened risks faced by frontline corrections employees.

Let’s look at some of the impacts of a toxic work environment and outline some potential solutions.

Deterring new talent

Foremost, a toxic work environment can discourage prospective staff. Awareness of abusive behavior can deter new talent from entering the field, making it challenging for corrections facilities to attract motivated individuals.

The challenge of retention

Furthermore, high turnover rates among existing staff who experience bullying and intimidation exacerbate difficulties in retaining experienced personnel. Employees who endure abuse may choose to exit the field, leading to a loss of valuable knowledge, skills and experience, and hindering the organization’s ability to provide adequate support and services to those in their care.

Breakdown of communication and collaboration

A culture of abuse can also erode trust, resulting in a breakdown in communication and collaboration among staff. When employees feel they cannot confide in their leaders, cooperation suffers, leading to a less effective and efficient workplace, and ultimately impacting the quality of care provided.

Effects of low morale

Low morale is another devastating consequence of workplace bullying and abuse. Staff subjected to such behavior may grapple with decreased job satisfaction, motivation and productivity, creating a vicious cycle of low performance and further abuse.

Impacting workforce diversity

Finally, a toxic workplace culture can deter a diverse workforce. Individuals from underrepresented groups may be particularly vulnerable to workplace bullying and abuse and may avoid workplaces that lack inclusivity and respect. This lack of diversity can make it challenging for organizations to cater to the diverse populations they serve.

Building a positive and inclusive workplace

To mitigate these issues, corrections facilities must foster a more positive and inclusive workplace culture. Measures can include implementing anti-bullying policies and procedures, training staff on appropriate behavior and holding individuals accountable for their actions. Facilities should also provide resources and support to staff who experience bullying and abuse, thereby minimizing the potential for retaliation.

By cultivating a positive and supportive environment, corrections facilities can enhance recruitment and retention efforts and provide a better working experience for all staff. This can lead to a more productive and harmonious workplace where employees feel valued, supported, and respected. It can also improve the quality of care provided and reduce the dangers that frontline correctional employees face in their daily work.

In conclusion, the abuse of power and workplace bullying in corrections is a serious issue that demands attention. By fostering a positive and supportive work environment, facilities can enhance their recruitment and retention efforts, provide a better working experience and reduce the risks faced by frontline corrections employees.

Topics for discussion

1. Strategies for changing culture in corrections facilities: Discuss the effectiveness of different strategies for changing a toxic work culture into a more supportive and inclusive one. What are some concrete steps that can be taken to reduce bullying and power abuse in the workplace?

2. Support systems for victims of workplace bullying: Explore the types of support systems that could be implemented in corrections facilities for those who have experienced workplace bullying. How can these systems be designed to provide effective assistance and minimize the potential for retaliation?

3. Promoting diversity in corrections facilities: Discuss the importance of diversity in corrections facilities and the potential barriers to it due to a toxic work environment. What initiatives can be put in place to attract a more diverse workforce and ensure an inclusive, respectful workplace culture?

Scenario-based training

1. Responding to bullying and power abuse

Scenario: Participants are tasked with dealing with a simulated situation of workplace bullying.

Objective: Develop effective strategies for responding to incidents of bullying and power abuse.

Activity: Role-play scenarios where participants practice intervening in situations of bullying or power abuse.

Learning point: Always maintain a composed and assertive demeanor when dealing with bullying or power abuse. Remember to document instances of abuse and report them to the appropriate authority. Also, try to support the victim by listening to their experiences and reassuring them that they are not alone.

2. Fostering open communication and collaboration

Scenario: Participants are placed in a simulated environment where trust has been eroded due to a culture of abuse.

Objective: Learn how to rebuild trust and foster open communication and collaboration.

Activity: Participants discuss and role-play strategies to improve communication and collaboration within the team.

Learning point: Open communication can be fostered through regular team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and open-door policies. Encourage employees to share their ideas and feedback, and ensure that everyone feels heard. Remember that collaboration is a two-way street, and requires both speaking and active listening.

3. Enhancing morale and job satisfaction

Scenario: Participants are presented with a hypothetical situation where morale and job satisfaction are low due to workplace bullying and power abuse.

Objective: Explore strategies to boost morale and enhance job satisfaction.

Activity: Participants brainstorm ideas and develop a plan of action to improve morale and increase job satisfaction.

Learning point: Implementing recognition programs, providing opportunities for career development, and encouraging work-life balance can greatly enhance morale and job satisfaction. Also, ensure that the workplace environment is positive and supportive, where employees feel valued and appreciated.

4. Building a positive and inclusive workplace

Scenario: Participants are tasked with transforming a toxic work environment into a positive and inclusive one.

Objective: Understand the steps necessary to foster a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

Activity: Participants create a comprehensive action plan that includes implementing anti-bullying policies and procedures, training staff on appropriate behavior, and providing resources and support for victims of bullying.

Learning point: Building a positive and inclusive workplace involves creating a culture where diversity is valued, and everyone feels respected and included. This can be achieved through diversity and inclusion training, creating diverse teams, and implementing inclusive policies and practices. Remember that creating such a culture requires consistent effort and commitment from all levels of the organization.

About the author

Shane Warnke is a seasoned correctional professional with 17 years of comprehensive experience, having initiated his career as a Correctional Officer 1 with the Minnesota Department of Corrections in 2005. He swiftly ascended the ranks, holding multiple positions including Correctional Officer 2, Sergeant, Work Out of Class Investigator within the central office investigations unit, and WOOC 3rd Watch Commander at the MCF-Lino Lakes facility.

He has played a pivotal role in numerous committees and departmental initiatives. He has served as the Field Training Officer (F.T.O) Coordinator for his facility and assumed the role of the F.T.O Lead Instructor for the department. His involvement in critical situations, notably a 2012 incident involving a civilian taking a nurse hostage, showcased his crisis management skills a week after completing a Crisis Intervention Team (C.I.T) training course.

He was honored with the “Exemplary Citizenship” award from the Commissioner of Corrections, Tom Roy, for his commendable service, becoming the department’s first recipient. Further recognition came a year later when he was awarded the National Meritorious Medal of Honor by the American Correctional Officers Intelligence Network (A.C.O.I.N) in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Corrections1 is using generative AI to create some content that is edited and fact-checked by our editors.