Justice Studies professor Dr. James Gacek's new project examines how correctional officers negotiate well-being with work in Saskatchewan correctional facilities

How, James Gacek asks, do the complex and potentially conflicting duties of Saskatchewan’s correctional officers (COs) impact their professional and personal well-being? His new project will explore the experiences of COs employed in provincial correctional facilities and seeks to examine how they negotiate their occupational mandate to both rehabilitate and simultaneously punish offenders.

The project, ‘Correctional Officer Work and Well-Being in Carceral Geographies’, is a collaboration between Gacek and colleague Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli at Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Dr. James Gacek is an assistant
professor in the Department
of Justice Studies

Specifically, the project aims to: identify how correctional officers negotiate their complex occupational role of ‘care, custody, and control’; examine how ‘carceral geographies’ (spaces such as jails and correctional centres) impact CO characterization and management of threat and well-being; and finally, understand how internal carceral spaces (such as the operational spaces inside jails and correctional centres) influence the lived experiences and well-being of COs and their feelings and orientations toward offenders.

Gacek and Ricciardelli will conduct their study via interviews with male and female correctional officers employed in Saskatchewan facilities. The in-depth interviews aim to draw out attitudes toward their role as COs – are their orientations rehabilitative or more punitive, for instance. They also seek to document the COs’ own understandings of threat and well-being – have certain experiences with prisoners impacted their well-being, for instance, and how they perceive future threatening conduct? Likewise, they will examine the effects of the COs’ work experiences and carceral spaces on their daily living – how they cope with the geographies of correctional facilities and attempt to protect their well-being from the spaces they work in.

According to Gacek the results of the project will greatly contribute to current understandings of how individuals in ‘higher risk’ jobs such as these manage, mitigate and negotiate interaction within carceral workplaces. The results will likewise shed light on how threat and well-being are conceived of in carceral spaces and how they intersect with personal and social factors, regional disparities, and even local politics.

Gacek also anticipates that the impact of the research will produce extensive policy and social implications by identifying areas of specific concern for COs. ‘By listening to the perceptions and needs of COs, our findings will supplement efforts to assist them in their occupational role of “care, custody, and control” of prisoner populations,’ he says.

1 May 2020