Date Presented 04/22/2023

Belonging is important for addressing worker well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Using a participatory approach with focus groups, public safety workers in prison settings described their experiences and suggestions related to belonging.

Primary Author and Speaker: Catherine M. Kiaupa

Additional Authors and Speakers: Drashti Topiwala, Lisa Jaegers

PURPOSE: Belonging increases well-being and mitigates stressors among employees [1; 2]. Stress and trauma are significant issues of public safety workers, especially those in prisons [3]. This study aimed to identify prominent belonging challenges of correctional workers and consider solutions to foster belonging.

DESIGN: This qualitative study used participatory action research to develop questions and perform focus groups at randomly selected prison workplaces.

METHOD: A participatory prison system executive team selected focus group questions from existing resources that explored employee challenges and suggestions about belonging, bias, microaggression, microinequity, and special advantage [4]. Focus groups were completed at 6 sites (N = 53, employing 8,400) across a Midwest state. There were 3 prisons, 2 probation and parole districts, and 1 transition center. Virtual focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed to explore themes. Transcripts were independently coded by 2 researchers and thematic analysis was performed with a 3rd rater.

RESULTS: A total of 9, one-hour focus groups were completed out of 10. There were a total of 47 participants with an average of 5 participants per focus group. The focus groups were primarily represented by non-custody staff and the daytime shift. Out of all the challenges, the most notable was ‘belonging,' with the most prominent theme being negative experiences and suggestions related to belonging. Non-custody staff had more suggestions related to belonging and negative experiences, while custody staff had more positive experiences coded.

CONCLUSION: ‘Belonging' is especially important for workplace diversity, equity and inclusion; and for guiding workplace health research and interventions.

IMPACT STATEMENT: This study provides an overview of the challenges and need for more assessment to implement occupational therapy belonging-focused interventions that can support the emotional needs of correctional workers.


Ayyala, R. S., Artunduaga, M., Morin, C. E., & Coley, B. D. (2022). Leveraging diversity, equity, and inclusion for promoting wellness in the radiology workplace. Pediatric Radiology, 52 (9), 1724–1729.

Roberts L. W. (2020). Belonging, respectful inclusion, and diversity in medical education. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 95(5), 661–664.

Finney, C., Stergiopoulos, E., Hensel, J., Bonato, S., & Dewa, C. S. (2013). Organizational stressors associated with job stress and burnout in correctional officers: A systematic review. BMC Public Health, 13(82), 1–13.

Harvard Human Resources Questions, 5. Washington State Corrections Worker Survey, Equity Diversity, Inclusion & Respect Index,