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Vending machine meals no more: Correcting correctional officers’ eating habits

Offering simple but nutritious options is a great way for administrators to improve officer morale and institutional safety

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You take a sip of the muddy jailhouse coffee and hope it keeps you awake for the next eight hours, and please let it be just eight hours. You wait for the dreaded “forced” call, thinking that you can’t possibly work a 16-hour shift. Again. You’re exhausted, and your stomach is growling. There was no time to pack a meal, grocery shop, or stop during your drive to work so your options are vending machine chips or ordering a greasy pizza.

Anyone who works in corrections relates to this scenario. With the current staffing crisis, working 16-hour shifts, sometimes four days in a row has become the norm. Although everyone around you is trudging through double shifts, it is important to realize this is not normal and not healthy. Unhappy and unhealthy officers result in more sick days more doctor appointments, and poor eating and drinking habits. A high rate of officer absenteeism creates a toxic work environment for those left to pick up the slack. It’s no wonder retention rates are so low, sick abuse is high and injuries are prevalent.

Studies show that correctional officers’ schedules result in poor dietary habits, low physical activity, sedentary behaviors and poor sleep patterns. [1] Additionally, corrections is a stressful job associated with an increased prevalence of mental health issues, with higher rates of suicide and depression among corrections staff than in the general public. [2] Considering the impact the job has on mental and physical health, priority must be given to help alleviate some of the stress.

One study shows that the most prevalent cause of stress among corrections officers is a lack of support from administrators. [3] Providing healthy food for officers is an excellent opportunity for administrators to prioritize officer wellness. Offering nutritious options not only directly benefits officers’ health, but it also shows concern for their well-being. Healthy provisions are a wise investment that will improve officers’ quality of life, resulting in less sick time, enhanced morale, and improved institutional safety and job performance.

Options do not have to be elaborate or costly. Here are some food choices to consider:

  • Baby carrots
  • Apples, oranges or bananas
  • Hummus
  • Peanut or other nut butter
  • Energy bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Yogurt
  • Granola bars
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Green salads
  • String cheese
  • Trail mix
  • Boiled eggs

A few beverage ideas:

  • Green tea
  • Sugarless carbonated water
  • Make water always available

Correctional officers are the backbone of the agency. With the continuous challenge of retaining good staff, administrators must recognize that it is in their best interest to help officers’ health and well-being. This is a critical step that will improve morale and create a positive light in a dangerous and sometimes negative work environment.

Administrators, it is time to show some appreciation for your officers. Collaborate with staff, form a wellness committee, and start taking care of the people who make the facility, and your jobs, run smoothly.

NEXT: How to mitigate health risks for corrections officers


  1. Obidoa C, Reeves D, Warren N, Reisine S, Cherniack M. (2011). Depression and work family conflict among corrections officers. Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, 53:1294–1301.
  2. Ghaddar A, Mateo I, Sanchez P. (2008). Occupational stress and mental health among correctional officers: a cross-sectional study. Journal of Occupational Health. 20:50:92–98.
  3. Chamberlain M, Hompe B. (2020). Causes of Stress for Correctional Officers.

Julie Pinero is a Lieutenant at a correctional facility in Massachusetts, where she has been employed for the past fifteen years. She holds a B.A. in Criminal Justice from California State University and an M.A. in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Julie enjoys writing on topics related to corrections, such as improving conditions for correctional officers and issues that arise from incarcerating mentally ill individuals. She has a love for traveling and writing about her experiences in different parts of the world.