Dissertation on absence management in custodial operations

  • Anne Margaret Howard

    Student thesis: Coursework Masters - CDU


    This dissertation is a commissioned consultancy on absence management in the custodial operations area of the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services. The short term absences of one and two days duration accounted for 77% of all absences. These are considered more likely to be voluntary so management initiatives can be more effective in reducing them. The constant supervision needed for prisoners means that shiftwork is required and positions must be filled when someone is absent.

    Sick leave and emergency leave records for all custodial officers were examined over the period July 93 to June 95. They were summarised by rank and correctional centre. This revealed an absence rate of about 7% with an average of 13 .5 days leave used per officer. Due to a flawed reporting system these figures are lower than actual usage as weekend leave is not included.

    An exploratory study into the possible causes involved interviewing management and conducting an employee attitudinal questionnaire. All the 240 officers at the Darwin, Gunn Point and Alice Springs correctional centres were sent the confidential questionnaires and there was a 29% useable response.

    A number of factors were identified but the most important were a strong absence culture, high negative affectivity caused by the nature of the work, stress, high routinisation and dissatisfaction with hours. Management identified external responsibilities as another factor but the questionnaire results were inconclusive.

    A framework in which strategies to improve attendance was suggested. Recommendations included better attendance monitoring, review of the rosters and encouragement of officers taking their full entitlement of recreation leave. There also needs to be clearer expectations and communication between management and officers. The current lack of appreciation of the roles of each group has caused distrust and polarisation of positions.

    The unique situation of a prison means that finding permanent solutions to problems is unlikely. Commitment at all levels will be needed if change is to succeed and absenteeism reduced.
    Date of AwardJan 1996
    Original languageEnglish

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