The Missouri Department of Corrections has added two units dedicated to the well-being of its staff. Director Anne Precythe tells Missourinet the agency reallocated some vacant positions to staff those units.

“It was time to put our money where our mouth is,” she says. “People talk about wellness. They talk about efforts for staff but unless you have somebody truly focusing on building and growing a section like that, no one else has the time to find these resources.”

Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe (Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Corrections)

Precythe says the staff wellness workers have been working with other states and Missouri agencies to find free resources to help Corrections employees. There have also been resiliency retreats, as well as services, trainings, and programs designed to provide care to staff.

“We did something for them that you can’t help but know this is the right thing to do because if I’m not taking care of the mental well-being and emotional strength of my staff, then they’re not going to be in a good place when they come into the workplace,” she says.

Precythe says the overall offender population will also benefit from the staff wellness efforts because she says it makes the workplace better.

The Missouri Department of Corrections has about 11,000 workers – the largest department in the state. Like many employers, the agency has been dealing with staffing problems but Precythe says its hiring efforts are starting to pay off.

“We really placed an emphasis on how do we help take care of our staff, not just because of the stress of COVID, but because of the things they see on a daily or weekly basis that many people will never experience in their entire life. I’m really super proud of the two units that we have that are focusing on wellness because the effects of trauma on people, not just for everyday situations, but when you work in a stressful situation can have an impact that most of us just don’t see when you’re looking at somebody in the face. It’s really what’s going on behind the eyes of someone that we can have a real impact. And so as leaders, it’s important to me that we think about how do we respond to the needs of our staff,” says Precythe.

Precythe says the agency is working on becoming a trauma-informed department. Trauma-informed care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life. It promotes environments of healing and recovery. The practice is designed to change organizational culture to emphasize respecting and appropriately responding to the effects of trauma at all levels.

“Trauma occurs inside our institutions when bad behavior occurs by the offender population and our staff are assaulted or have different things that happen to them because of the nature of the environment,” she says. “We have to be able to respond to those quickly and appropriately – and genuinely. And I think that that’s part of what we’re trying to bring to our staff, that not everybody has to be big and bold and strong forever, but that there’s a time to be vulnerable and release that emotion so you can get back to a good spot and get centered and focused back on the job. And everybody needs that at some point or another whether you’re a firefighter, law enforcement, a judge, a corrections officer, case manager, a probation officer or a teacher.”

Precythe says building a culture that enhances the overall health of the agency’s workers benefit their lives, help their family lives and ultimately the community.

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