Helping correctional officers deal with job stress is the mission of criminal justice graduate
By JULIE HEFLIN
A high school forensic science class began a journey into the field of criminal justice for Katie Hughes-Taylor, who is now graduating from UofL with a doctorate degree. During her time at UofL, she’s made a meaningful mark within the Kentucky adult prison system investigating mindfulness as an intervention for correctional officer post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Correctional officers are asked to do a very difficult job. They protect and serve inmates, their fellow officers and society as a whole,” Hughes-Taylor said. “More often than not, correctional officers are not thought of as first responders, but they are the first on the scene of any incident that occurs within the prison walls.”
She says these officers are exposed to a number of daily traumatic events, such as violence, suicide attempts and completed suicides, and about one-third of Kentucky’s correctional officers have PTSD.
It has been an amazing opportunity to work on a substantial National Institute of Justice grant with her mentor, Kristin Swartz, associate professor, Department of Criminal Justice, College of Arts & Sciences, says Hughes-Taylor. It was during her senior year as an undergraduate student at UofL that she met Swartz while taking her criminal behavior course.
“Dr. Swartz’s love for research and teaching lit a fire in me,” she said.
The inspiration pushed Hughes-Taylor to go to earn a master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati, before returning to Louisville to pursue a doctor of philosophy in criminal justice.
Hughes-Taylor says she has spent hundreds of hours in correctional facilities observing the work of officers, and collecting psychological and sociological data. Thanks to the help of Tamara Newton, professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, College of Arts & Sciences, the research team also gathered biological data to analyze stress, which Hughes-Taylor says is completely unheard of in the correctional field. The mindfulness intervention provided to officers through the study included sections on coping, body-scanning, handling trauma and meditation.
Following recent success in defending her dissertation on correctional officer PTSD and coping, Hughes-Taylor will soon launch her own career either in academia or through work within a correctional department. Swartz will hood Hughes-Taylor at 4 p.m. on May 6 during the doctoral hooding ceremony at Cardinal Stadium.