Thursday, December 13, 2018

Home for the Holidays? Not So Simple for Correctional Facilities

Christmas tree made of barbed wire
For people in many industries, working during the holidays is inevitable. Hospitals, police departments and prisons are all among the entities that have important roles to serve while much of the rest of the country spends time with their families and away from work.

Working during Christmas is especially difficult in correctional facilities, where officers and inmates alike deal with the struggle of being away from families at a difficult time of year. As emotions run high, tensions can escalate, making it difficult to maintain morale and prevent lapses in security protocol that put your officers’ safety at risk. It’s important to make sure that an already difficult week doesn’t become a nightmare. Here are some tips to help your officers deal with working around Christmastime.

Address Stress Among Correctional Officers


Around the holidays, corrections officers’ occupational stress levels are amplified. Open a dialogue with your corrections officers about stress management strategies and watch for behavioral changes that could signal issues such as burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse.

Unfortunately, as the National Institute of Justice points out, policies and programs for supporting corrections officers’ well-being are lacking due to inadequate funding and research. However, some correctional facilities are borrowing strategies from law enforcement and offering peer-support groups and mental health treatment programs. If your facility offers any of these resources, make sure officers are aware of them and are encouraged to use them.

Bring Some Cheer to the Facility


Many people volunteer to help inmates feel that they aren’t quite so alone during the holidays, but your officers might still feel left out. Some ways you can alleviate this problem include allowing some holiday decorations in certain areas of the facility and perhaps having some special food brought in for those who are working on Christmas Day. For example, one Illinois prison throws a Christmas party for officers, and a prison in Washington holds an annual Christmas potluck.

Your officers still have jobs to do, but small touches can help the facility feel a bit more like a home away from home on the toughest day. Of course, it’s important to ensure that any decorations and celebrations you permit at your facility don’t interrupt your standard operating procedures.

Reinforce Standard Security Protocols


Help your employees help themselves. If your officers are feeling down or stressed around the holidays, it can lead to them slacking off and mentally checking out at work in the weeks before Christmas. However, in the corrections industry, slacking off can have some dire consequences, such as an attack, riot or a breakout attempt. While any of those can turn a random Tuesday into a volatile situation, it also creates additional work, stress and danger for your officers.

In the days leading up to Christmas, keeping your officers in the right frame of mind is critical to maintaining top-notch security and reducing employee risk. Take some time to reinforce the importance of following your standard security protocols. Whether it’s how you manage your keys or ensure kitchen knives are secured, officers need to follow the same procedures they do every day to keep everybody in the facility safe and avoid the added stress of a security breach.

While many corrections officers won’t have the luxury of being home for the holidays, following these steps can help their workdays be a little more merry.