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“Hesitation gets you killed:” perceived vulnerability as an axiomatic feature of correctional officer working personalities

Faculty Advisor




correctional officers, perceived risk, prison work, violence, officer subcultures

Abstract (summary)

Research on correctional officers (COs) has expanded over the past two decades, giving us a broad picture into the mental health, culture, and discretionary practices of a traditionally overlooked branch of law enforcement. However, gaps in this portrait remain. Drawing on 131 semi-structured qualitative interviews with Canadian COs, I demonstrate how COs’ perceptions of vulnerability powerfully shape officer actions and working personalities. To explain this, I introduce the concept of the vulnerability axiom, a cultural heuristic that frames how officers perceive their position within prisons. COs describe themselves as vulnerable to threats posed by incarcerated people, managers, and other officers, and act in specific ways to mediate these threats. The vulnerability axiom shapes how COs perceive their position within the prison, impacting relationships with managers and incarcerated people and shaping officer control behaviors. I conclude by discussing how the vulnerability axiom may help to reframe future CO research.

Publication Information

William J. Schultz (2023) “Hesitation Gets You Killed:” Perceived Vulnerability as an Axiomatic Feature of Correctional Officer Working Personalities, Justice Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2023.2293899


Item Type

Article Post-Print



Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

Embargoed Until:

June 18, 2025

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