Timothy Cocozza, BS Department of Medicine University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington CT; Sara Namazi, PhD Department of Health Sciences Springfield College, Springfield MA; Stacey Brown, PhD Department of Public Health Sciences University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington CT; Alicia G. Dugan, PhD Department of Medicine University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington CT; Jonathan Noel, PhD Department of Public Health Sciences Johnson & Wales University, Providence RI; Stanquinto Sudduth, BS Chief Stewards AFSCME Local 391 Connecticut State Prison Employee Union; Krystle Pierce, M.Ed Correctional Counselor Connecticut Department of Correction; Martin Cherniack, MPH, MD Department of Medicine University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington CT

This study’s purpose was to examine how perceptions of workplace discrimination impact depressive symptoms among correctional workers (CWs) and whether this relationship is moderated by job tenure, sex, and race/ethnicity. The following hypotheses were tested:

H1) Perceived workplace discrimination (PWD) is positively associated with depressive symptoms among CWs.
H2) Sex, race/ethnicity, and job tenure moderates the association between PWD and depressive symptoms, such that the effect of perceived discrimination on depression will be stronger for women, racial/ethnic minorities, and workers with less tenure on the job.

CWs suffer poor mental health outcomes due to their experiences at work.1,2 Specifically, studies have found that rates of depression are especially high among CWs and exceed national averages.3,4 Research identifies associations between these high depression levels among CWs and work-to-family conflict and low job satisfaction.5,6 Some CWs may be at an increased risk for depression compared to others due to the psychosocial work environment. These include female and racial/ethnic minorities, who the Department of Corrections (DOC) has purposefully recruited to expand the diversity of its workforce.7 Furthermore, the DOC follows a paramilitary structure that places importance on seniority and rank.8 Despite the recent increase in diversity among the DOC workforce, qualitative research among public safety workers highlights that women, racial/ethnic minorities, and less tenured public safety workers still face widespread discrimination in the workplace.7,9 Some of the discriminatory factors include hazing of less tenured staff, denying critical information to women and racial/ethnic minority workers, and promoting masculine values.7,9 Although diversity has increased at DOC, there remains a gap in the research examining the association between workplace discrimination and depressive symptoms among women, people of color, and less tenured employees.

This project uses data from a survey designed using Participatory Action Research (PAR) methods in a collaborative effort between researchers of the Health Improvement Through Employee Control (HITEC) Project and members of the “391 Ambassadors” Union- based Design Team (DT). Researchers and DT members used PAR to develop a survey that was administered to individuals working in correctional facilities in a Northeastern state (n=239). Data analysis was conducted using the statistical software SPSS version 26. Hayes SPSS PROCESS Macro add-on was used to conduct moderation analysis. All data collection and analysis has been completed and the university’s Institutional Review Board approved the study.

Two separate analyses were conducted. For H1, standard multiple regression assessed the ability of PWD to predict levels of depressive symptoms among CWs after controlling for job tenure, race/ethnicity, sex, age, and education. After controlling for these variables, the total variance explained by the model was 15% (F (6, 152) = 4.37, p < .001). The analysis shows a statistically significant association between PWD and depressive symptoms (β = .32, t(158) = 4.37, p < .001). H2 was partially supported, moderation analysis indicated a statistically significant interaction between job tenure and PWD (b = -0.208, 95% CI= [-0.360, -0.056], t = -2.70, p < .01). Simple slopes analysis was conducted and showed that under conditions of high discrimination, those who were less tenured on the job experienced higher levels of depressive symptoms as compared to CWs with more job tenure. Neither sex nor race/ethnicity moderated the relationship between PWD and depressive symptoms.

This study found support for the hypothesis that PWD is associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms among CWs. These findings add to the growing body of research linking workplace discrimination to depressive symptoms.10 However, to our knowledge, no research that examines this relationship has been conducted among CWs. This relationship may be attributed to non-minority CWs discriminating against CWs that are in the minority by preventing their upward advancement within DOC.7 Further, we found that for those who had less job tenure, there was a stronger relationship between PWD and depressive symptoms. This may be due to the treatment of workers of lower status or holding less control in their positions since the corrections workforce has a history of placing an emphasis on those with more seniority. Low job control, a component of job strain, has been associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, and may explain this finding.11 We did not find support for the hypothesis that sex and race/ethnicity moderate the relationship between PWD and depressive symptoms. We recognize that this study was limited by sample size, which may have led to the insignificant results. Further research is needed to test the aforementioned hypotheses.

As diversity continues to increase in corrections, it is especially important that the DOC take action to reduce the burden of PWD. Implementing programs, such as mentoring programs for new recruits, may be most useful in supporting those who are less tenured and are more adversely affected by workplace discrimination. By addressing workplace discrimination, the high prevalence of depressive symptoms may decrease among CWs.

Tags: Applied research, Discrimination and Harassment, Diversity and Inclusion in a Changing Workforce, Minority and Immigrant Workers, National and International Initiatives; Laws; Regulations; Policies; and Collaborations; Global Standards, Public safety, Worker Protection Initiatives through Labor; Human Resource Management; and/or Benefits, Workplace Diversity and Health Disparities, Workplace Mistreatment and Threats, Workplace Mistreatment; Threats; and Violence