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3 keys to surviving night shift in corrections

I am recently coming off a hitch on overnights, and I had two sage supervisors and some great leaders on my shift that provided me with a wealth of information

Sunset at a correctional facility

Working overnights is not difficult; it is a great way to gather a lot of information on the institution in a relatively calm manner.

Getty Images/Oleksandr Filon

Working overnights is not always an ideal shift for a new recruit, but it is the shift some of will get. The reason is simple: all new officers want action. But within the world of corrections it is all about routines, counts, movements, pill pass and lock-ups.

If your organization (like mine) is based on seniority the lowest senior officers will be assigned the least desirable shifts — shifts that have Tuesday and Wednesday off, and have you working every weekend. Officers will also be assigned to the overnight shift. I am recently coming off a hitch on overnights, and I had two sage supervisors and some great leaders on my shift that provided me with a wealth of information.

If I was working a busier shift, I might not have had the time to connect, and be mentored in these career skills. Here are three keys to surviving overnights that correctional officers can utilize.

1. Coffee

Finding a good coffee will taste good, and will bring others to visit you at your work station. Coffee is like breaking of bread on overnight shifts. It is something that people can come together and enjoy. Coffee also passes the time throughout the night. Anecdotal stories and wisdom can be shared by senior staff, who can pass on important career saving advice. It also takes time to brew it, drink it and get a good cup ready for shift.

2. Routine

Knowing your agency’s routines is important. The routine is key to survival, because it allows for consistency and every shift is just a variation of a previous day. So know your count times, round times and checks — this is a majority of the duties on overnights.

Other duties may include medical checks, meal check and preparation for transportation for court or off property events. Knowing the routines is great, because when something is wrong, you have the ability to correct things quickly. Also knowing what is not routine should be a flag that something is wrong. An offender who is generally asleep is awake in the middle of the night, lights are on when they should be off, and noises that are not common — anything that stands out as not normal for institution should be a flag.

Also, developing a routine for your days (and days off) is important. Spending time with family, friends and the day side world is important. Whether you decide to come home and sleep after your shift ends or hours after your shift ends, do the same thing every day.

3. Humor

Working overnights just like any shift you will be exposed to a variety of human behavior. Some of the behavior comes from the offenders, and some comes from other officers. Being able to laugh at yourself, and situations (when appropriate) as you will save your humanity.

Anytime you work with people it is an adventure. The adventure changes every night. Working in corrections we deal with things that polite society doesn’t want to believe exists, and is sometimes unbelievable.


Working overnights is not difficult — it is a great way to gather a lot of information on the institution is a relatively calm manner. There is plenty of time to review policy, online training, review institutional documents, daily reports and get an understanding of the institutional culture.

Working with a good team of officers makes the time enjoyable and pass.

This article, originally published 03/10/2016, has been updated.

Dr. Matthew J. Stiehm has received an Educational Doctorate from Argosy University, where the focus of his research was campus safety and security. He has a Master’s Degree of Criminal Justice from Central Missouri State University, with his final paper which focused on the investigation of child abuse and finally a Bachelors of Science from Wayne State College, Nebraska. He has served as a police officer in three states (CA, MN and NE), he keeps current on law enforcement trends most recently he conducted an 8 month study with Columbia Heights Police Department (MN) on Community Policing. He currently is a member of ILEETA, an Associate Member of the IACP, Support, and Police Executive Research Forum Subscribing Member. Dr. Stiehm is transitioning into a career with the correctional world, working as a corrections officer.