In prison for the holidays: A management approach to helping staff cope

Correctional managers tend to worry about the inmate populations' reaction to the holidays. We often forget that correctional officers are vulnerable during the holiday season as well.

The holidays, although joyous for most, can be very stressful for both staff and inmates. Managers and supervisors need to pay attention to both groups. We all go through emotional times during the season but we often forget that line staff may be suffering from some of the same struggles that our inmate population does: anxiety about being away from family, financial issues and family pressures on top of the normal stressors corrections brings. .

Historically, correctional managers tend to worry about the inmate populations' reaction to the holidays. Inmate self-harm and suicides go up, the numbers in confinement increase and the compound is tense. We often forget that correctional officers are vulnerable during the holiday season as well. Often staff resent having to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah or New Year's Eve.

I have heard supervisors say that they "knew it when they took the jobs," but frankly that doesn't help the reality of the situation. In addition to being away from their families, staff can resent the volunteer groups who crowd to prisons during the holiday season, bringing joy and good tidings to the inmates. Staff see inmates getting small perks to which they are not entitled, and it can cause dissention.

It helps tremendously for management to show up on holidays. Simply walk through the compound, visit various posts and thank staff for a job well done. Let them know you are thinking of them on the holiday.

I remember my first Thanksgiving working as Deputy Secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections. I had planned a big dinner at my house. Family, friends and coworkers were coming – about 25 total. I felt however that correctional staff needed to know I appreciated them. I got up at 0400 and headed to the facility nearest my home.

Although at first my unannounced visit caused some suspicion among staff, after they realized my only agenda was to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, all was well. I spent a couple of hours greeting both the outgoing and oncoming shifts and let them know I understood the sacrifice they were making. I got many positive comments and as in most states, the correctional grapevine was strong!

I have always felt good communication was the key to successful management regardless of the business you are in. Don’t forget that during the holidays kind words go a long way. And, Thanks to all the corrections professionals who have to work! If no one has told you lately, I appreciate what you do every day!

About the author

Laura E. Bedard began her work in corrections as a jail administrator in 1984. She has served on the administrative faculty for the College of Criminology at Florida State University for 17 years. During her tenure at the University, she ran a study abroad program in the Czech Republic lecturing on crime topics in an emerging democracy.

In 2005, she became the first female Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. There she was responsible for 27,000 state employees and over 200,000 offenders in the third largest correctional system in the country.

Dr. Bedard has published and lectured world wide on a number of corrections-related topics including women in prison, mental health issues and correctional leadership. Dr. Bedard is currently serving as the Executive Director of Corrections for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Sanford, Florida.

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