Correctional Officers Demand a Seat at the Table in Peer Support Program

Friday, September 13, 2019

(SACRAMENTO) – On Tuesday, legislation authored by Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) to provide peer-to-peer mental health support services for correctional officers passed the Senate and Assembly Floors with unanimous support.

“California's correctional officers experience a variety of mental and physical traumas every day as a result of their careers. My bill, AB 803, is about creating a space where officers can have someone to talk to and confide in, and is also someone who understands exactly what they are experiencing,” stated Gipson. “The work of correctional officers requires a high degree of professionalism and toughness, but they are also human beings who end up worn down by anxiety and stress due to the nature of their work environment. I believe that by strengthening the support provided to these officers, not only do we help them personally, but we also improve the quality of service provided in correctional facilities.”

AB 803 requires that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) establish a Peace Officer Peer Support Labor Management Committee tasked with crafting, updating, and monitoring the implementation of a standardized statewide peace officer policy for the department’s peer support program to provide substantive assistance to the peace officers. To that end, current research on law enforcement mental health and wellness practices has shown the need for officers to have a seat at the table alongside management in developing these peer support program policies.

The measure was co-authored by 28 bipartisan legislators and garnered supported from several key stakeholders including Californians for Safety and Justice, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the Steinberg Institute, FundaMental Change, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association Benefit Trust Fund, the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, among others.

“While currently there are some support services available, the absence of direct officer input is a critical concern.  The proposed Labor Management Committee in the legislation would formalize a more collaborative process in order to provide substantive assistance to our members,” said CCPOA President Kurt Stoetzl.  “Our state’s correctional officers deserve this type of accountability.”

“California has a duty to extend a hand to those who protect us,” said Maggie Merritt, Executive Director at the Steinberg Institute, a nonprofit, public policy institute that seeks to advance sound public policy and inspire leadership on the issue of brain health.  “AB 803 will ensure the mental and physical stability of our officers and subsequently improve the operation of our correctional facilities.”

“Working in prisons is an incredibly difficult job that can be both physically and mentally demanding. Psych Techs work side by side with our Correctional Peace Officer brothers and sisters and witness the strain they endure providing us with a safe environment to treat inmates with mental illness. What is often forgotten are the effects that constant pressure has on officers especially when coupled long hours,” said Coby Pizzotti with the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians.  “This bill provides them with the necessary support so they can continue to provide us and the other employees working in prisons with a safe environment.”

AB 803 is now pending on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.  The Governor has until October 13, to sign the bill.

Mike Gipson represents the 64th Assembly District. The district includes the cities of Carson, Compton, Gardena, Harbor Gateway, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, South Los Angeles, Torrance, Watts/Willowbrook and Wilmington.