Use biopsychosocial approach for disciplinary matters

Elina Feyginberg
March 15, 2018
By Elina Feyginberg
In my previous life, I was directly involved with Ontario corrections, first as an officer and then as a frontline operational manager. I left the field to further my education and I have just recently completed my master’s degree. My master’s research honed in on administrative and investigative processes in corrections in Canada as well as across the world.

Working as a correctional officer presents a number of challenges, including: managing difficult and often dangerous clients in a less than favourable environment  — plus lengthy hours and rotating shifts. This is very trying when it comes to maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

My research hypothesis, which was based on both academic research and my previous work experience, was the following:

There is an ongoing labour relations crisis in corrections, mainly as a result of ineffective and inappropriate disciplinary and administrative processes. This crisis has a major impact not only on correctional employees, but also on our society and economy as a whole.  

Unfortunately my hypothesis proved to be true.

I make several recommendations to address the current — and clearly faulty — disciplinary and administrative processes. Most importantly, I propose the use of the biopsychosocial approach when having to deal with a disciplinary or an investigative matter. A biopsychosocial approach systemically considers biological, psychological and social factors that led to the decision making in question.  

When administering a suspension or a dismissal to a correctional worker, factors such as the officer’s training and experience should be taken into account, as well as the officer’s mental and physical state at the time of the incident. The most important question that should be asked is: How much time did the officer have to review the policies and procedures, weigh the options at hand and make the best decision? In fact, as a society, I think we should all ask ourselves these very same questions prior to passing a judgement on the decision a law enforcement officer had to make within a split second.

My primary research involved interviewing past correctional officers who, at one point, were subject to suspensions and, in some instances, even dismissals.

In all instances the subjects were negatively affected by these suspensions/dismissals, with respect to their mental and physical health. Additionally, all subjects have been negatively impacted in terms of their economic stability and have had to access some form of government assistance as a result. All subjects confirmed their job satisfaction and their trust and respect for their employer had significantly deteriorated. In turn, this has a negative impact on our economy as a whole.

Individuals who once earned a good wage, which allowed them to provide support for their families and contribute positively to the overall economy, have now become reliant on a number of social services, such as unemployment insurance.

There is one other issue that impacts our economy as a whole: the enormous amounts of taxpayers’ funds that are being spent on legal proceedings and settlements in order to keep these correctional officers unemployed. Grievance proceedings, legal proceedings and lengthy suspensions-pending-investigation processes are all extremely expensive processes to the tax-paying public. These proceeding usually result in financial settlements, which again place a strain on the public and the economy. These funds would be more responsibly spent on a return-to-work plan for the workers in question.


Elina Feyginberg worked for Ontario Corrections between 2003 and 2012. She is currently working as an executive at an insurance firm and owns a corporate health and safety training company as well as a non-profit that promotes education for PTSD among correctional officers and first responders.

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