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Recalling the basics for a peaceful holiday time
By William Sturgeon
Published: 12/17/2007

Blocks While the civilian world prepares to celebrate the holidays, correctional personnel have to be especially vigilant and prepared to deal with any potential situation. While the civilian world is preparing for peace on earth and happy times, very often these are depressing times for offenders and their families.

A great many correctional facilities decorate and have special holiday events planned, but an undertone of sadness, frustration and sometimes anger can still exist. Some of the offenders deal with the holiday season like any other time while others experience varying degrees of difficulty dealing with this season.

Correctional personnel at every level must be on the lookout for manifestations that offenders could exhibit. This can include suicide. Historically, correctional facilities experience an increase in attempts and suicide rates around now. Currently, there are those who believe that because of better staff training there has been a decrease in the number of actual suicides and attempts, because the staff have intervened to get the offenders to the mental health staff.

A change in normal behavior and attitude is another important factor to watch for. Offenders can exhibit very noticeable behaviors and attitudes, especially in a prison setting. Line staff and other seasoned personnel are particularly good at these changes, which can include:
  • The normally conversant offender now being standoffish;

  • A mellow inmate who becomes aggressive and/or angry (troublemakers);

  • An offender who was sociable suddenly becomes introverted and stays in his cell or living area;

  • Exhibiting a new personality;

  • Those who become lackadaisical – doesn’t participate in normal activities;

  • The offender who gives away personal belongings or sends them home.
Special consideration also should be given to the visiting areas. Either an offender’s family member or an offender may act out because of their anger or frustration over being incarcerated. The best strategy is to consult your department’s mental health unit for more advice and training on suicide prevention and intervention.

Escape attempts can also be on the rise around now. The best way to prevent this is by strictly adhering to all security policies and procedures. Now is the time to double check all of the facility’s policies and procedures. Sometimes during the year. people become complacent about employing all security policies because they may be cumbersome to perform or slow down day-to-day operations. Offenders become aware of these ‘security shortcuts’ taken by staff and could take advantage of them in an effort to escape.

Staff issues during the holiday season

Most of the time in correctional training classes or in departmental memoranda personnel are told about all the issues offenders might face during the holidays. What is seldom mentioned are the issues that may be encountered by staff during the holiday season and how those issues could affect the operation of the facility.

The holidays are a wonderful time, but it can also be very hectic and stressful. Certainly, those working in corrections are not immune to the whirlwind activities of the holidays, so administrators and line supervisors should pay special attention to the following:
  • Excess overtime - It is important a well thought out staffing schedule is implemented to avoid the stress associated with mandatory overtime.

  • Excessive sick time - Administrators and supervisors should inform all staff of the agency’s sick time policy. Hold meetings with staff and tell them how vital it is to not abuse sick time during the holiday season. The facility and their peers are depending on them so everyone can enjoy their holidays.

  • Adequate staffing for every shift - Providing enough staff for every shift will alleviate some of the work and stress that is put on staff. Most facilities have staffing schedules that break down something like this: ideal, normal, adequate, substandard staffing. The goal during the holiday season should be normal or adequate staffing. (It is an unusual day when a correctional facility has ideal staffing.)

  • Sobriety surveys - While this is a delicate subject it must be mentioned. There should be a subtle reminder of the agency’s policy about staff showing up after consuming alcoholic beverages. Personnel who come to work after they have been drinking can be a hazard to the safe and secure operations of the facility. Administrators and supervisors should warn everyone that surveys will be conducted at roll call and throughout the shifts.

  • Overtired staff - A staff member who is overtired can jeopardize the safety and security of the facilities. The activities associated with holidays don’t fall equally on everyone. Some people are required to do more when they are not working, so they can become overtired fulfilling these non-job connected activities.
Correctional facilities that plan for the holidays by insuring there are events and activities for the offenders along with adequate alert staff on every shift usually make it through the season with minimal difficulties. The holiday season will be over before we know it, but around this time be particularly mindful to follow security policies and procedures. Use your instincts and stay alert!

Celebrate with your family and friends and keep yourself, the offenders, facility, and visitors safe and secure. Happy Holidays.

William Sturgeon is an emergency preparedness and counterterrorism planning expert. He has more than 35 years of experience in the criminal justice field, and has managed security operations for sheriffs’ offices and correctional agencies across the United States.


  1. Charis on 12/14/2007:

    I would like to thank Bill Sturgeon for sending me this article. I think that I can safely speak for many of us who are lay people that unless we are or have been touched by someone that is or has been incarcinated, even a small thought of the situations that were covered would not come to mind. I have been enlightened and will surely pass this on to others. Thank you again. Charis

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