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Thoughts on Women in Corrections
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 06/14/2010

Femaleofficer Editors Note: Re-printed with permission from the CORRECTIONAL OASIS, a publication of DESERT WATERS CORRECTIONAL OUTREACH

This article was sent to us a while ago. In it the writer bluntly shares his perspective about the challenges faced by women working in corrections.

I started in Corrections when Matrons worked in the jail. They were the motherly type that brought in sewing stuff for the girls and who treated the female inmates for the most part like their own daughters.

Then you didn’t worry about sexual harassment suits. The jail was a guy thing, and that’s all there was to it. You respected the Matrons, because they were women. Newer and younger cops on the streets driven by new laws and lawsuits made arresting women commonplace. With the onslaught of female inmates came more and more female officers.

Men have a concept that women need to be protected. A female is not quite as strong as a male and therefore it’s an instinct thing right along with knowing where the TV remote and the beer should be. That filters up to the administration when it comes time for school, promotion, etc. Now, forgive me for there are going to be a few topics I am going to broach that may seem off key, but they are the cold, hard reality as I see it.

A common concept among males is that women are not constant. PMS plays a role here. Some women have a bitchy day and everyone suffers. Administration sees this and is hesitant about placing females in position that are sensitive, whether they are SERT, stripes, brass, etc. We still have some administrators that feel women are not meant for corrections. As time progresses and females are placed on court transports or mixed gender details they have to work as hard as anyone else and harder, since they must deal with their own job and beating down their male counterparts that want to move them out of harm’s way. (There’s that guy thing again.) Then you have the knuckleheads you have to deal with that feel women are useless, almost. Mostly those are the older guys and newer recruits. Both ends of the spectrum. Again another macho thing.

On occasion you have the woman that does play the game of the poor helpless female, especially if she is good-looking and knows it and plays that angle. Almost everyone with male hormones falls for that one. Hello, leave the hormones at the door! But we are talking about humans here. What may be put out as a simple unassuming gesture, a touch or a joke turns into a come-on (depending on whose eyes you are looking through). What some people may see one way is construed by someone else differently.

And then you have the poor girls that want to come in, do their job and go home. They are at a loss for the most part. Guys don’t find a thrill there, so working with them is boring, and that’s how all kinds of rumors start.

Then you have the pressure from the home front and personal life. Attitudes change, boyfriends, husbands or significant others start to feel uncomfortable because of the change in the temperament of the women C.O.s. (Women do get tougher in this job!) Next thing we have is friction and a fight, a department romance or afterwork romance or other diversions, or a grouchy time at work that gets them deeper in the mud. Next, rumors abound and a “slut” is born. Add that to the backpack of life and, depending on what she looks like, either she gets hit on, ignored, or she turns to her home life for solace. And that’s whether it’s her fault or not.

Women in corrections have a doubly hard life, balancing professionalism and femininity. Well, femininity is out the door on the inside. Only you can’t get that through some of their heads. There’s a saying “Live as you train, train as you live”. In high stress situations you react as you’re trained. Now you’ve had 21+ years of femininity and that’s hard to lose in a short time behind the wall. You see where this is leading. You can’t just shut it off. You also can’t make that much of a cognitive effort, since that will take time and attention away from you doing your job. Catch 22. Women are between a rock and a hard place.

Now regarding training. Most of your administration is older and entrenched, and, as I stated earlier, still have the mindset that a woman can’t do a man’s job embedded deep in their psyche. This bleeds over to the newer, younger administrators that have been groomed by these guys. So tucked in the back of their heads is the concept that a woman is good for clerical, but not SERT. Typing, not shooting, and again, God forbid, it’s PMS day. DUCK! So training opportunities are limited. Word processing 101 anyone?? Advanced coffee making training??

Advancement is another stumbling block. How many women in corrections do you see in positions of absolute authority? Not very many, even on a percentage basis. Again the mindsets are there. “She’s a woman.” So what! Can she get the job done?? They don’t listen. A reason can be found almost anytime, anywhere, in corrections not to promote someone. That’s politics. Add to this mix the “good ol’ boys” group. The guys that bowl together, drink together, party together. How many females do you see in this crowd?? Not very many. I’ve also seen a lot of guys that work the female officers hard and ruthlessly and yet, when their wives are around in another environment, who is the dirt on the floor?? You guessed it—the C.O. So to take out your frustration due to your wife backbiting you, what do you do? You pick on another woman! That sucks, plain and simple. But it happens.

I admit in my beginnings at the jail I had those same mindsets. Then I had a heart attack. When I got back to work months later, things changed. My attitude changed. My work habits changed. I began to notice that there were female C.O.’s doing the job I was doing. And they were doing it great! They were doing it the way I wanted it done. Eventually I had a newfound admiration and curiosity about female C.O.’s. I was with the administration a lot at the time, and learned a lot. Women did not get a fair shake, no way, no how.

When I took command of my shift, the deal for everyone was: “Do the job. You have eight hours to do it. I don’t care how. Just don’t break the law, follow your rules and regulations, policies and procedures, and everyone go home in one piece so you can fight with the outside world, not each other, not here. We have enough on our plates trying to keep the inmates in check. If you direct all your efforts to the job, we all go home in one piece. And that is my intention. Not to leave anyone or any C.O. body parts behind. At least you can then enjoy your life out there. We will get along whether you like it or not.” I would put female officers in positions that guys used to cringe at. But I always maintained I would never have someone do something I wouldn’t do. Eventually my shift became the shift to get on. We had a great shift, a tight shift. We had problems on occasion, but it was our shift, and we dealt with them.

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  1. bradfogg on 06/17/2010:

    Our outlooks on how female officers and staff are different. Officers who are females play a vital role at the facility in which I work. We are a co-educational facility, predominately male oriented, yet two thirds of our unit managers are female; one of two of our facility reception officers is a female; our staff development specialist is a female; two fifths of our newest hiring class of officers were females. Our Deputy Superintendent is female; and our female officers are assigned on a regualr basis to supervise male prisoners. We have appointed females as acting capacity sergeants and have had female captains. Our Investigator is a female. Our female staff of administrative workers take training in conflict resloution, key and tool control, emergency code and response training and more. The Associate Commissioner of the Department of Corrections is a female. the Warden at the maximum security men's state prison is a female. Sure we have had some gender sensitive problems - as does any large company and we work hard to maintain a healthy gender and culterally diverse employment base, but we are quick to address these problems. Do we have male officers that are concerned about female officers' safety - yes, but our female officers have also jumped in when and where needed and done themselves proud. As a Shift Commander I was never hesitatant to have officers who are female respond to emergencies. I am pround of the officers, sergeants, unit manangfers, deputy superintendents, director of human resources, warden and associate commissioner that I work with and for. Brad Maine

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