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Holidays Are Dangerous Times Within Correctional Facilities
By William Sturgeon
Published: 12/05/2011

Holiday-caution The holiday season in prisons and jails is a dangerous time. In this article we will take a look at the types of dangerous situations that come along with the holidays.

During the holiday season the offender population becomes antsy, angry, sad, and remorseful along with every other emotion one can think of…. even though correctional facilities and staff go above and beyond to make the holiday season as pleasant as possible for the offenders. Life is much different today than in the old days, when at Christmas the doors of the correctional facilities were ‘opened’ and some offenders were paroled.

Being incarcerated during the holiday season is difficult for everyone:
  • The Staff
  • The Offenders (Most especially first timers)
  • The Offenders’ Immediate and Extended Families

While the holidays are supposed to be a joyous time as they are portrayed in movies and on television, the reality does not always mirror the fantasy. For some people, the holiday season is very difficult emotionally. This emotional turbulence affects not only offenders, but staff also. Too often we forget that staff are as vulnerable as offenders to the trials and tribulations of life.

Suggestions for staff members to help them get through the holidays:
  • Take control of situations – Don’t let situations take control of you.
  • Prioritize your life. What do you “HAVE” to do? Remember, work should take a high priority. If you go to work tired, with a hangover, or with non-work related things on your mind, you are risking your own well-being and that of your fellow employees and offenders.
  • NEVER GO TO WORK IF YOU HAVE BEEN DRINKING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES! (NOT EVEN ONE)
  • Let your family and friends know your work schedule and other time commitments, so that they will not pressure you into doing you into over-committing yourself.
  • Get your rest!

Offender Issues

If you have worked corrections for any length of time, you know that the holiday season can be difficult. Offenders, who are normally compliant, become testy or even violent.

During the holiday season, security concerns become magnified because of the emotional behaviors of the offenders.

Security issues to be concerned about:
  • Be on the lookout for suicide. Review the signs and symptoms of suicide. Talk to the offenders under your supervision. If you suspect that an offender “MAY” be suicidal, immediately get some help. It is better to be cautious than have a suicide on your watch.
  • Be on the lookout for escape attempts. The holiday season triggers offenders to do senseless things, like trying to escape. “If I could have just spent Christmas Dinner with my kids.” (Offender caught during a Christmas morning escape attempt.)
  • Insure that you are not complacent. Fighting complacency during the holiday season is a constant issue. Everyone (Staff) is busy with their own lives and the holiday season for civilians is usually a pleasant time. It is easy for staff to be complacent and let security procedures slide.
  • Homemade Booze, Hooch, Pruno, etc., is always a problem in correctional facilities during the holiday season. Unfortunately, when Hooch is added to a correctional environment, normally docile offenders can become combative and/or suicidal. Administrators, Line Supervisors, and Staff should be conducting shake-downs in an effort to find the Hooch before it is consumed by the offenders.
  • Be alert during and after visitation periods. Insure that the officers who are supervising the visiting area report any/all of the following incidents to the living area officer:
    • Suspicious activity
    • Strange behavior demonstrated by visitors or offenders
    • Any emotional outburst by either visitors or offenders (Crying, arguing, threatening behavior, etc.)

Summary

The holiday season presents some intensified security concerns in correctional facilities. I have tried to outline the issues that I have encountered during my years in the field.

I want to emphasize the point that you should get sufficient rest during the holiday period. You should not go into work tired. Balancing life is especially difficult during the holiday season, but it is crucial that you try.

My experiences with security issues that have arisen during the holiday season have one thing in common – They were spontaneous. The 101st Airborne Division has the saying “Stay Alert – Stay Alive”!

Happy Holidays!

Corrections.com author, William “Bill” Sturgeon has over 30 years of experience in the criminal justice field. An author, teacher/trainer, practitioner, expert witness, and internationally recognized criminal justice consultant, he has received numerous awards and commendations for his work.

Mr. Sturgeon has been a consultant for the United States Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections for over twenty years in the areas of management, operations, training, security, and supervision. Additionally, he has consulted with the divisions of the Department of Justice.

Mr. Sturgeon has been a consultant for federal, state, and county governments, as well as national and international corporations. He has served as a technical consultant for correctional training videos, and in 1995, Mr. Sturgeon won a Telly Award for “Best Training” video in its class.

He has also consulted abroad in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Haiti, and the Republic of South Africa. Mr. Sturgeon has written several articles and co-authored two books, No Time To Play: Youthful Offenders in Adult Corrections, and Recess is Over: Managing Youthful Offenders In Adult Systems.

Mr. Sturgeon received a Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts Degrees in Criminal Justice Administration, and his training in Mediation and Conflict Resolution at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Mt. Sturgeon is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division.

Visit the Bill Sturgeon page

Other articles by Sturgeon:



Comments:

  1. FrankLaF on 12/06/2011:

    Great observations. The work we do with Juvenile Offenders on Probation rings true in this article to a lesser degree obviously. The teens we work with have mixed feelings about the holidays and are exposed to adult drinking patterns that can be unhealthy role modeling. Added that the teens are not in school and in a daily pattern leaves the door open for unstructured time that they can use in a negative way. Great job Bill


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