Date of Award

Fall 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Hayden P. Smith


A significant portion of the literature regarding corrections emphasizes the negative factors and outcomes related to the job. The career of a correctional officer includes a stressful, demanding, and unpredictable work environment. Correctional institutions are struggling to keep a correctional staff that can adapt to internal and external forces. Several studies have shown that correctional officers frequently encounter severe inmate misconduct, resulting in high levels of stress, low job satisfaction, and intentions of leaving the job. However, research begs the question of what makes a correctional officer resilient and functional at work?

No prior study has applied a mixed-methods study to directly ask correctional officers what factors contribute to their resilience, while also directly asking what keeps them on the job. To address this gap in the literature, the current study collected both quantitative and qualitative survey data from a statewide sample of correctional officers. Ultimately, the aims of this dissertation were to: (1) develop a comprehensive understanding of resilience using an interdisciplinary approach, (2) examine correctional officer responses to critical incidents, (3) develop categories associated to a correctional officer’s level of resilience, and (4) assess factors that contribute to job retention (5) consider the positive factors associated with the profession.

Quantitative analyses found that action-oriented coping strategies and length of service can increase resilience, while some demographic variables and external sources of stress can increase dysfunction. In conjunction, qualitative findings provided a complex perspective on many sources that influence resilience including sources of support, individual characteristics, successful coping strategies, balancing stressors and protective factors, and a sense of purpose. In support of these findings, best practices for future research and relevant policy implications are recommended.


© 2020, Jon Thomas Arthur Gist