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DOJ Officials Call for 'Culture of Wellness' in Criminal Justice Jobs


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About 2.5 million people work in United States criminal justice systems, some 800,000 of them police officers.


Hiring and health problems in some sectors of the justice system prompted leaders of three key U.S. Justice Department agencies to say Tuesday that more attention should be paid to employee wellness.


Police officers' paying more attention to their own well-being could pay dividends in fighting local violence by making police more effective in dealing the communities they serve, said Nancy La Vigne, director of DOJ's National Institute of Justice.


A Justice Department report issued this spring said "research demonstrates that law enforcement occupations can contribute to diminished psychological health and well-being that can have negative effects on personnel (and their families) and public safety."


La Vigne, Bureau of Justice Statistics Director Alex Piquero and Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Karhlton Moore spoke on a panel at a symposium in Long Beach, Ca., sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association, SEARCH, and the Justice Research and Statistics Association.


The federal government runs several programs devoted to the wellness of law enforcement officers. One, called VALOR, says it has provided assistance valued at more than $110 million since it started in 2010.


The community-oriented policing COPS Office gives grants of about $7 million annually under the 2021 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) Program to improve police access to mental health and wellness services.


Moore said the criminal justice field should create a "culture of wellness." He said his agency plans to hold a national conference on the subject in the next year, inviting justice system officials and outside experts to discuss what else can be done to improve conditions for workers in law enforcement, the judiciary, and corrections system.


Piquero noted the irony that public officials portray prisons as places where no one would want to live, while leaders of the corrections field lament staffing shortages. Why would most job seekers want to work in prisons and jails, he wondered.


A study cited by the National Institute of Corrections, another DOJ agency, said that research in

Florida found that on average, law enforcement and correctional officers died 12 years earlier than the general population.


Some 21% of the 20,446 positions for federal corrections officers funded by Congress were unfilled as of last September, said DOJ's inspector general.

Colette Peters, director of the Bureau of Prisons, told the New York Times that filling those vacancies “is our No. 1 priority,” even as she tackles other issues, including the sexual abuse of female prisoners and staff members, the high use of solitary confinement and an increase in inmate suicides.

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