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How correctional officers perceive their workplace environments has long been a matter of professional concern. Correctional workforce is becoming more diverse (Britton, 1997). In the meantime, the pressure of judicial, political, and organizational changes on correctional officers continues to increase (Britton, 1997). Needless to say, all these factors affect the way correctional officers perceive their professional obligations and the environments, in which they operate. However, external factors cannot be solely responsible for differences in professional perceptions among correctional officers. Sex and race are believed to be important predictors of correctional officers’ workplace perceptions. In this sense, Britton’s (1997) study of perceptions of work environment among correctional officers has the potential to improve professional understanding of workplace environments and performance outcomes in correctional facilities.
Dana Britton’s (1997) study was published in 1997 in Criminology. The main goal of the study was to close an apparent contradiction in professional understanding of correctional facilities and employees (Britton, 1997). Before Britton (1997), “research on perceptions of the work environment among members of this changing workforce has produced two contradictory accounts” (p.85). Studies built on qualitative methods of research found that sex and race predicted differences in work perceptions and experiences (Britton, 1997). By contrast, quantitative studies found few race- and sex-based differences in workplace perceptions and performance outcomes (Britton, 1997). Britton’s study had to address four essential questions: (1) whether there are race and sex differences among officers’ perceptions of work environments; (2) whether job characteristics are responsible for these differences; (3) whether these differences change over time; and (4) whether any factors mediate the relationship between sex, race, and work perceptions among correctional officers. Britton (1997) relied on the data collected by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used quantitative methodology to measure job satisfaction, job stress, efficacy of work with inmates and supervision quality (Britton, 1997). Britton (1997) discovered that sex and race did affect correctional officers’ work perceptions. Moreover, work characteristics had little to do with the discussed changes; the latter also did not attenuate over time (Britton, 1997). Black male and female correctional officers expressed lower satisfaction with their jobs (Britton, 1997). Even perceived efficacy in relations with inmates and high quality of supervision does not help to mediate this relationship (Britton, 1997). Surprisingly, white female correctional officers who report gender discrimination exhibit levels of job satisfaction equal to that among male officers (Britton, 1997).
Undoubtedly, the relationship between sex, race, and correctional officers’ perceptions of work environment is not straightforward. Sex and race do play a role in how correctional officers perceive their work, but how these variables relate depends on a number of factors, include the group of correctional officers considered (Britton, 1997). Unfortunately, Britton (1997) fails to provide relevant explanations to variations and complexities involved in the analysis of sex, race, and work perceptions among correctional workers. Most claims and assumptions require further empirical validation. Britton (1997) cannot explain why, even after controlling the quality of supervision, male minority correctional officers remain dissatisfied with their jobs. The researcher suggests that, most probably, their interactions with coworkers cause lower job satisfaction (Britton, 1997). Likewise, Britton (1997) finds that white women do not feel that their work environments are dissatisfying; the researcher attributes these findings to the ‘paradox of the contented working woman’ (p.100). The latter means that women tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, even when they face few extrinsic rewards and little prestige (Britton, 1997). Again, Britton (1997) makes a cautious assumption that white female workers witness their minority colleagues and, as a result, realize that their workplace situation is not as bad as it seems; and again, this assumption warrants further analysis.
Despite these controversies, Britton’s research provides a number of far-reaching practical implications. At the very basic level, the discussed study reflects and contributes to the current knowledge of increased workforce diversity among correctional officers. In light of these demographic changes, supervisors in correctional facilities need to develop new human resource management practices. These practices must ensure lower levels of discrimination on the basis of sex and race. However, the relationship between race, sex, and workplace perceptions differ greatly among professions and jobs. It would be fair to assume that satisfaction and workplace perceptions are multidimensional concepts, and one single study can never suffice to explain all dimensions of job satisfaction among correctional officers. In any case, sex and race should be considered in most, if not all, workplace decisions. Otherwise, the differences between correctional officers and their perceptions of workplace environments will be systematically underestimated (Britton, 1997). To a large extent, Britton’s study (1997) is merely the first step in the analysis of correctional officers’ perceptions of workplace environments.
In summary, Britton’s (1997) study provides a valuable insight into the role of sex and race in shaping correctional officers’ perceptions of workplace environments. The use of quantitative methods lends greater credibility to the study findings. Simultaneously, many dimensions of the race-sex-perceptions relationship need further explanation. Numerous assumptions and probabilities cause redundancy and, at times, make the study unreadable. Dana Britton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at KansasStateUniversity and, for this reason, may lack detailed understanding of the correctional facilities’ culture. Britton (1997) writes that correctional officers operate in a unique and multidimensional subculture. Criticism aside, future researchers should engage correctional officers and criminal justice professionals, to understand the relationship between sex, race, and perceptions of workplace environments in their entirety.