Health Improvement Through Training & Employee Control (HITEC)


From 2006 to 2011, CPH-NEW investigators studied physical and mental health of public sector correctional officers within the Connecticut Department of Corrections. A steady progression of chronic disease risk factors was documented within the first five years of employment, leading to obesity/overweight, hypertension, physical inactivity, high levels of depression, and poor sleep and nutritional habits. HITEC l began as a research-to-practice program, dedicated to workforce participation in the design and implementation of integrated interventions in working conditions and in individual health behaviors.

Using these findings as groundwork, the HITEC II study (2011 to 2016) tested new types of participatory interventions to explore how correctional facilities can promote better musculoskeletal fitness, weight management, and safety for officers. Correctional Officers (COs) and CO supervisors were engaged in varying program design efforts to develop customized programs, policies, and facility improvements. For example, Kaizen design events were compared with the CPH-NEW IDEAS design process for feasibility and effectiveness of safety and health interventions. One participatory intervention that showed promising health outcomes was the CO Peer Health Mentor Program. The inspiration for this program followed from the HITEC I results which showed marked declines in CO health in the first three years of employment. The CO peer health mentor program paired trained, experienced COs with new CO recruits in the Training Academy, then facilitated regular peer interactions for a period of one year. Mentors guided new recruits as they both learned the ropes and dealt with job conditions impacting health. HITEC II evaluation of the program showed that introducing preventive health promotion for new recruits can help correctional officers avoid early, important declines in health.

HITEC III (2016 to 2021) focused on interventions with high potential for systems-wide applications. The labor-management-CPHNEW Study-Wide Steering Committee, after extensive surveys and focus groups, identified eight interventions. The highest priority was placed on addressing workplace stress and mental health, particularly following assaults and critical incidents. Interventions included providing separate space, equipment, and computer training for writing incident reports; a decompression room equipped with relaxation materials; and installation of two physical structures to protect staff from the elements. A union-centric, multi-facility approach to HITEC was established by creating a Design Team representing all the within-district facilities; this team has been overseeing the development of separate Design Teams at each facility. Another Design Team of corrections supervisors designed and conducted their own survey, and provided mental health awareness training for all supervisors. During COVID-19, the Design Teams began using advanced virtual meeting platforms to conduct meetings, training, and process monitoring. Members of these empowered Design Teams regard their work as "continuous improvement" rather than as single completed projects. They are focused on strategies to ensure the short- and long-term sustainability and further expansion of HITEC activities.

During the past 15 years of HITEC, many research articles have been published, trainings developed, and toolkits prepared. The Connecticut Department of Corrections, both management and bargaining unit representatives, have shared HITEC results with national audiences of researchers and practitioners. The Connecticut Department of Corrections is recognized as a national leader in implementing Total Worker Health® strategies in correctional facilities.