For the past 21 years, Desert Waters has persistently and passionately pursued and promoted correctional staff wellness, primarily through education and research.
The last several years have seen this topic take the front-central seat in national and international discussions. Reasons for that include concerns about work performance, work engagement, legal liability, retention, recruitment, and facilitating positive interactions between staff and justice-involved persons.
Since staff wellness is now recognized as being mission critical, many agencies are implementing components of staff wellness programming—which is great news!
Wellness is a complex area of study and service, and employee wellness programming is a rather new area of pursuit for some employers. Fostering occupational wellness is particularly challenging—a “tough nut to crack”—when addressing wellness needs of correctional staff. Some reasons for that are that correctional employees:
  • are often chronically stressed;
  • operate in cultures of toughness and denial, where acknowledging being negatively affected by the job and needing help are frowned upon and shamed;
  • are exposed to inordinate amounts of traumatic material on the job;
  • have alarmingly high rates of symptoms of mental health disorders.
The well-documented mental health struggles of correctional employees are a critical reason why wellness programming for them has to be designed particularly carefully.
As we looked around the country to learn about what wellness programming various agencies offer their staff, it became apparent that multiple and diverse approaches are being used, at times with no clear “rhyme or reason” as to why they were selected or evidence for their effectiveness. And only certain areas of wellness may be implemented, leaving other vital components unaddressed.
While we certainly commend agencies for their efforts at implementing programming that could have a positive impact on the wellbeing of staff, we also recognize the desperate need for a compass, so to speak, such that the variety of tools implemented do in fact lead to an intended destination.
That is why we at Desert Waters spent the last year in partnership with accreditation experts from the Pursuit of Excellence to build an in-depth and systematic correctional staff wellness program.
That program, SafetyNet Accreditation™, is now ready to be implemented by correctional agencies.
It is important to note that SNA does not introduce entirely new notions and practices. Rather, SNA takes existing wellness-related information from the arenas of corrections and other public safety professions, the military, healthcare, and psychology, and organizes it by creating data-driven functional areas and standards, with accompanying compliance indicators, and comments and justifications per standard.
To our knowledge, SNA is the only staff wellness accreditation program available to date, for any profession.
What makes SNA of unique value to the corrections profession, and the way of the future for staff wellness, are the following characteristics.
  • It is data-driven, research-supported, to the degree that research is available.
  • It provides structure and organization to current wellness knowledge through the creation of standards, aiming to answer agencies’ wellness-related questions of, “What?”, “Why?” and “How?”
  • It is comprehensive and systemic, to include all interested parties and stakeholders—staff of all ranks and job roles, families, and retirees.
  • It is “wholistic,” addressing all eight of SAMHSA’s wellness dimensions.
  • It is corrections-specific, designed specifically for prison, jail, probation staff, and parole staff and their families.
  • It collects data on program effectiveness through annual staff surveys and other outcome measures, providing accountability and ways to improve the wellness offerings.
  • It provides coaching and consulting to agencies as they build their wellness programming.
  • It provides a number of wellness and programmatic resources.
  • It is adaptable to meet the realities of agencies of all sizes and budgets.
We recognize that building SafetyNet will take commitment, concerted effort, time and resources. That is why we want to come alongside interested agencies and help assist them in this process. Implementing this program over time can be expected to positively impact staff wellness, morale, performance, engagement, retention, and even recruitment as the word gets out that an agency “is taking care of its people.” In the long run, benefits are expected to outweigh the costs and will include staff being able to interact in prosocial and constructive ways with the justice-involved individuals they manage, and by so doing fulfill a key part of their agency’s mission. And what price can we put on human lives and on the health of family lives?
In addition to the benefits of such success when SNA standards are adhered to, administrators can have peace of mind that they are providing a defensible, effective, and relevant program, and the satisfaction that they have indeed done the best they can to protect their most valuable asset—their staff.
That is why we believe that SafetyNet Accreditation™ is the way of the future in corrections, and why we invite you to contact us with your questions about it.