BOSTON – In the fall of 2018, Representative Will Crocker (R-Centerville) was one of two members of the Legislature appointed to the Special Commission to Study Suicide Prevention Among Correctional Officers. The 13-member commission, was created as part of the 2018 criminal justice reform law, and reviewed existing suicide prevention programs and policies within Massachusetts’ correctional facilities. The commission submitted its findings to the Legislature this month.
"We need to make sure we're giving our correctional officers the best option for treatment," said Rep. Will Crocker. "They're under tremendous stress from the time they walk onto the unit to the time they walk off." Overall, the commission found, services in place in Massachusetts are "above average." The Department of Correction (DOC) said it has a confidential support unit available around the clock for employees and offers annual training on suicide prevention, addiction and mental health. Officials should offer greater educational resources, including workshops to reduce stigma and new training for those in correctional officer academies about the mental and emotional toll of the work, the report concluded. By doing so, correctional officers can be prepared to deal with challenges as they come up and seek help early on. "They need to know there's an opportunity out there to receive treatment or education to know there's treatment," Crocker said.
Other suggestions included regular confidential surveys to track officer mental health and an update to a provision in last year's criminal justice law that would expand a peer crisis counselor intervention program implemented for local police to correctional officers as well. The report flagged forced overtime as a regular occurrence in Massachusetts correctional facilities, one that exacerbates existing challenges. DOC plans to implement a new training program for stress awareness later this year.
Representative Crocker was appointed to this commission due in part to his experience in the field. Prior to serving in the Legislature, he spent three years working in the Bristol County House of Correction as a teacher and has had a long-term working relationship with the Barnstable County House of Correction.