Women Social Workers in Corrections

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Women Social Workers in Corrections
Tamme Fiechtner
Rasmussen College

Women in Criminal Justice
Dr. Teddy Turner

Women Social Workers in Corrections
After working in community corrections for over a year it became apparent that something is just not working. Clients should be coming into this system, re-adjusting to life within a community setting, and completing treatment programs meant to better themselves with the end result of re-entering society as productive citizens. However, this is not the reality. For a person who worked with clients of this nature, without formal training in social work, the community corrections aspect of the criminal justice system began to seem like a waste of time and energy. To this person, the clients themselves had become something other than human beings; some sort of sub-species that for the most part were incapable of changing their behavior. And for this same person, watching social workers work with clients tirelessly, and to whatever eventual outcome, became an amazing experience. This person is me, and I am not a social worker. I’ve never wanted to be a social worker. And I couldn’t see how or why any human being would subject himself or herself to the stresses of being a social worker, when the rate of success to failure is seemingly very grim. Social workers began to fascinate me, therefore, I decided to find out what drives a person to do this kind of work, day in and day out, in light of failure.

A recurring theme in literature about social workers is that of burnout. How do social workers keep doing their jobs in light of being over worked and facing what can be considered by an outsider as “failure”? According to Munn-Giddings et. al., “Workplace stress and burnout are recognized phenomena which impact negatively on the delivery of care by health and social work organizations” (Munn-Giddings et. al., 2005). Quantitative research conducted in 1995 by Darcy Clay Siebert found “a current burnout rate of 39% and a lifetime rate of 75% (Siebert, 2005). However, when studying burnout in social workers, Soderfeldt et. al., found that, “Burnout is ambiguously defined, measured, and assessed, and the same is true for the correlates of burnout” (Soderfeldt et. al., 1995). With no agreed upon definition of burnout or standardized unit of measurement, the study of this phenomena is, in general, a difficult and touchy task.

In Garner, Knight, and Simpson’s 2007 study of burnout in corrections-based drug treatment staff they found that, “age was found to be negatively related to burnout, indicating that staff that are younger are more likely to have higher levels of burnout” (Garner et al., 2007). Two of the social workers interviewed for the purposes of this study were in their twenties, making them both candidates for early career burnout. Another source of burnout, according to Koeske and Kelly for these individuals is professional over-involvement. “The findings of the current and 1980-81 studies consistently and strongly supported a process model positing that over involved helping professionals would show and erosion of job satisfaction due to the strain (burnout) arising from excessive involvement” (Koeske and Kelly, 1995). The two older social workers interviewed both cited times in their careers when they were on-call 24/7, 365 days a year. All of the social workers interviewed dealt with clients that were dealing with drug addiction and chemical dependency. Acker’s review of literature finds that these clients, “have great difficulty maintaining the therapeutic relationship. The ability to engage these clients in treatment is limited because of their regressive and inappropriate behavior (Cancro, 1983; Coyle, 1978)” (Acker, 1999).

Possible sources for my own burnout are posited by Keinan and Malach-Pines research regarding prison personnel. “The COs spend...
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