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Mandatory Overtime = Sleep Deprivation
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 01/11/2010

Clock Remember that one little question on your application process that stated, “Are you able to work mandatory overtime” and you marked yes because you were excited to get into the system and started on your chosen career? Looking back do you ever wish you would have marked NO? In no other profession is there such a high turnover rate requiring so much forced or mandatory overtime on its personnel. It was not uncommon for the entire third shift officers to be mandated to stay for the entire first shift 5 days a week making for an 80 hour work week. 40 plus hours of overtime a pay period was the normal not the unusual and after a while you began to hate telephone calls after 4:00 in the morning. I always wondered what the effects of the daily stress and forced overtime did to a body.

From shift to shift the correctional officer is tasked with policing this violent institutional subculture. Being subjected to this violent subculture on a daily basis is a stressor in the career and life of a correctional officer. These stressors can cause the correctional officer to experience more health issues, have a shorter life span and on average die at an earlier age than the average worker. Stress is not only harmful to the stressed officer or correctional worker but is also difficult to the profession and to the lives of others working in the institution. Burned-out officers frequently loose interest in their jobs, become passive instead of active in carrying out post and institutional orders, and let things inmates do, go without consequence. Thus harmful incidents may occur that could have been avoided if handled properly from the beginning.

Stress is not always a direct association of the inmate population. Other byproducts of the profession can cause stress and impair functioning of the correctional officer. Shift Lag is one of these byproducts. Shift Lag is when the stress and physiological fatigue of shift work causes one to become irritable, experience impaired performance, and a feeling of being hypnotic both on the job and in personal affairs

In a study published recently in the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers in Australia and New Zealand report that sleep deprivation can have some of the same hazardous effects as being drunk. Getting less than 6 hours a night can affect coordination, reaction time and judgment, posing “a very serious risk.” Drivers are especially vulnerable, the researchers warned. They found that people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent. That’s the legal limit for drunk driving in most western European countries, though most U.S. states set their blood alcohol limits at .1 percent and a few at .08 percent.

For correctional, in particular, current research has indicated a relationship between extended shifts and generalized poor performance. Overtime often comes at the expense of sleep. A 1992 study, conducted by the American Journal of Public Health, found that nurses in Massachusetts who worked variable schedules (including mandated overtime shifts) were twice as likely to report an accident or error and two-and-one-half times as likely to notify supervisors of near-miss accidents. With regard to healthcare professionals, sleep deprivation has been implicated in deadly medication administration errors and decision-making processes during critical patient assessments. Studies have shown that night shift workers have the highest incidence of fatigue due to sleep deprivation.

Many correctional professionals will attest that sleep deprivation from shift work may lead to occurrences that jeopardize not only themselves, but also other officers and inmates. Fatigue from long shifts can reduce attention to detail, affecting critical thinking and performance. Although sleep is not cumulative, sleep deprivation is. The more hours a person works, the longer it takes to complete a task. More mistakes are made, and alertness is markedly decreased. In addition to reduced efficiency, sleep deprivation slows down recovery processes and impairs host defenses, increasing susceptibility to infection. It influences the potential for developing other disorders as well. In particular, losing sleep heightens the risk for type II diabetes, moodiness, and obesity. All these ailments will in turn lead to more call offs and more need for mandatory overtime.

Shift working correctional officers affected by sleep deprivation experience a greater incidence of diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, and heartburn. As if this were not enough, their risk of cardiovascular disease is increased by to 50 percent. Women shift workers are more vulnerable to reproductive problems, from disrupted menstruation and difficulty conceiving, to miscarriages and premature births. For example, 55% on midnights showed “elevated waist circumference,” more than double the percentage found in the other 2 shifts. Half had sub-desirable levels of “good” cholesterol, compared to 30% on days and 44% on afternoons, and 25% had high blood pressure, compared to 15% on days and 9% on afternoons.

Getting six or fewer hours of sleep each night is just like being drunk. Consider that most the legal blood alcohol content is .08. When you’ve been up for 18 hours, studies show that you function as if your blood alcohol content were .07. After 24 hours without sleep, you’re at 0.1 the same as a drunk driver. Now picture yourself after a 16 hour mandated overtime from third shift to first. At that point, you’re fighting sleepiness, you’re more irritable, and you have increased risk of accidents both at work and while driving. That is when you see people drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages, popping out of their chairs at work more, using physical activity to keep themselves awake.

So administrators you now have to calculate more than the financial cost of forced or mandatory overtime at your facilities. What would a legal suit bring against your agency for an auto accident following an officers 16 hour shift of mandatory overtime? What about the obvious policy violations overlooked by sleepy officers on the pod? Inmates love staff shortages because they then know that there will be a new officer working their unit, who does not necessarily care what happens as long as the shift goes off without a major incident. Staff shortages and mandatory overtime may be the number one complaint in corrections. It is like a revolving door happening, the more overtime within an agency the more call offs it creates, the more staff resignations and unplanned illnesses you have.

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Comments:

  1. Anonymous on 04/24/2014:

    I just began going through corrections officer training, and this article is really starting to give me some second thoughts...

  2. Mark on 10/26/2010:

    One important item I forgot to mention; after working that double shift, and getting home at 6:30am after my drive home, I am expected to be in again at 2PM the next day for my regular shift. What does that leave for sleep, etc.????

  3. Mark on 10/26/2010:

    I honestly cannot believe that more Officers haven't jumped on this conversation. It seems that those that have been doing this for a while just accept it as 'The way it is', however, there is a good reason for this. The higher on the seniority list, the lest apt you are to be forced with overtime! The senior union staff doesn't give a crap about forced double shifts as they are never forced and in many cases never have been. The problem lies with newer staff and turnover is an absolute given. I been with a facility for a little over a year now and having just hired 2 additional Officers, we are now at full staff. You see, while the facility was growing through the years, they would hire and grow, hire and grow. It wouldn't be too long and the low guy/gal would have a little relief and perhaps enjoy being senior to another in hopefully short order, but what about when you're full staffed? What about those low seniority Officers. Double shifts will need to be a way of life and I can promise you, it will not work! When they leave, the others ridicule of their softness, but you try this: Get up between 5:30 and 6:00am with the Kids and the dogs. Get them off to school, Wife goes to work and you go to work for second shift at 2PM and will work til 10PM. Not bad right; you have the whole morning to get things done and really, while you may have a 10 minute to 40 minute ride to work, you don't get home too late, but now, after an exhausting shift, 8PM rolls around and your Supervisor gets a call from a 'sick' 3rd shifter. I say 'sick' in jest as this is another area for discussion due to the abuse of sick policies, but we'll save that for another day. They will try to call Officers at home and ask for voluntary overtime for 3rd shift in 2 HOURS, but as you can imagine, no dice. Remember, you're tired and beat from a standard 8 hour shift as you get the call telling you that you'll be working until 6am. Just the cloud hanging over your head knowing every day that thism happen is an emotional stressful situation, but now, how do you manage to dig deep to work, not only another 8 hours, but the GRAVEYARD shift!! I have a hard time with 3rd shift even if it was my standard shift,, but now it has been added for me with no chance of refusal!! It's HELL!!! and everything that was said in your article ir correct. Now first, let me tell you, I'm no Wimp! I'm a hard worker in terrific shape mentally and physically, but I challenge anyone to go through this 16 hour day and Oh, that's right, you're working with and around criminals who are calculating your every move. You really do feel like you've been drinking and judgement is clouded as well as energy. I have gained about 25 lbs in the past year and it just keeps going. I'm trying to grab hold of this before it's too late, but I can honestly feel my health level deteriorating. Now, let's talk about the drive home which happens to be 30 minutes for me. Yes, I suppose I could pump myself full of Mountain Dew or caffeine tabs, but how am I supposed to sleep when I get home! I have been forced with the additional 8 hours many many times now and I would say that 8 of 10 times, while driving home, I have at some point fallen asleep at the wheel. Once, I actually drove over the shoulder and part way into the ditch at 55MPH, but recovered without incident. How safe is this??? It is absolutely ridiculous and I cannot even believe it's legal! Here's the funny thing. I left a terrific job to do this because it's what I always wanted to do and the Job itself, I love!!!! Many would say, get out if you don't like it. That's what our Administration voices; if you think it's unsafe get a different job. Like you stated, just wait until someone get's injured or killed on the job or while driving home from a forced graveyard shift. I have never even thought about a lawsuit against anyone, but I can tell you, if I was still alive, I would go after them with all my legal might to make them pay for putting me in harms way. Hey, maybe my Union cn help me out! Perhaps I can contact my Steward! No dice! This is why I have hated unions my entire life as they are worthless these days. Oh, they obviously have alot to do with the nice wage that is made, along with benefits, along with protecting those that should lose their jobs, but you see, as I mentioned previous, Senior union members have no interest in discussing situations like this because they are not affected!!! Without their vote, it's pointless to try to bring anyting to vote on the subject because they will vote against it. I know I have my own personal choices to make and this isn't about me, but it's about a safe work environment for all of us Officers. Remember, Senior Officers, it is I who is working side by side with you with the inmates. Do you really want me working at 50%?? Think about it that way when you're considering whether it's worth further discussion.


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