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Women in Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 04/22/2013

Femaleofficer The April 2013 corrections.com theme is “Women in Corrections.” The history behind this topic covers over forty years of change. During this time period, we went from females working in male prisons with no inmate contact to now working in all positions within the prisons. I should note in some systems there are some limitations based upon other variables. We finally progressed from making excuses as to why females should not be allowed to work in certain positions and determined just how effective female officers can be in the corrections field.

During my corrections career, I was warden at a prison where we advertised for a vacant assistant warden position. At that time, there were no female assistant wardens at a male prison in that state. One of the applicants was a female training officer at the academy. She had a strong corrections background and met the qualifications for this vacant position. Consequently, she was interviewed along with others. She was selected not because she was a female, but due to being the best candidate for the position. This applicant provided an excellent interview, possessed the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities for this position, and earned the position.

I recognized some of the obstacles and challenges she would face. Yet, at the same time, I had a responsibility to assist with her training, mentoring, leadership, career ladder development, and support. You may want to ask; was this accepted by all? Certainly not, many barriers were in place that I would have to work toward removing. This comes down to commitment and doing the right thing which were part of my duties and responsibilities. Later in her corrections career, she was promoted to warden at a male prison.

The history of females in correction continues to improve. However, correctional agencies need to take the initiative to correct previous actions and prepare for the future. The opportunity is now, not later. We must avoid excuses and continue to be part of the upward trend and not become a barrier.

A U.S. Department of Labor report (2007) continues to reflect that by 2014, ‘women will represent 47% of the workforce.’ In addition, more women than men are earning a college degree. Also in 2007, an American Correctional report reflects “women represent 37% of adult correctional prisons (excluding federal prisons) personnel and 51% of juvenile corrections personnel.” We recognize the continued growth of females in corrections and their impact in this difficult field.

By reviewing research data we have a fairly accurate picture of corrections and its projected growth and employment opportunities. The number of women entering corrections, continues to increase. There has been a steady trend of females entering the corrections field and opening the door for female advancement opportunities. We must ensure we continue to be part of the trend and not become a hinderance. Females in corrections have earned the right to be properly trained and be eligible for promotional advancement. Again, some states have done a better job at this than others.

A typical corrections organizational chart consists of the director down to the units. The organizational culture and mission are clearly defined. At the unit level, the warden sets the tone and direction. The warden has a direct impact on the overall safety and security of the prison and must build a team that is progressive without hidden agendas. All employees must know and understand what the goals and priorities of the institution are, and if this includes any barriers that would prevent females from being promoted.

Have you ever asked yourself the following? Am I taking a realistic approach in determining workforce projections, applicant pool, education level of applicants, staff recruitment efforts, turn-over and reasons for this, and determining which employees are eligible for promotions? Do we provide any training to assist employees in preparing for the opportunity to advance? Granted, this is part of human resources yet a must in building a team and preparing staff for promotions in leadership roles. These components are a major resource and our most precious assets and investments for the future.

Research also sheds light on our projected workforce and indicates more females continue to enter the corrections workforce than their male counterparts. The next question then becomes are we even reviewing and utilizing the research data. Now we know corrections continues to evolve in many ways. What are we doing to meet these changes? My thoughts still are “we are only as effective as the people we have working for us in providing a positive workplace culture and meeting the many challenges corrections faces.”

Supervisors and managers have a responsibility to ensure any negative comments related to female employees are controlled with zero tolerance. If we do not address this immediately, then the supervisors and managers become part of the problem. If left unchecked, this will continue to grow and affect morale, and which may impact the safety and security of the institution.

There have been many arguments over the years as to why females should not be in corrections. Instead of being factual, the majority of these reasons are merely excuses. Yes, females are going to face many challenges in corrections and often have to prove themselves. However, males face this as well. Again, research supports female officers are very effective in their corrections positions.

The tendency to implement change in corrections often occurs slowly. Litigation often is the force behind change. We should be proactive and moving in the right direction, but some still resist.

Once recruitment is completed and training begins; we need to ensure effective training is in place focusing on a diverse work environment. The officers’ role must be clearly defined and there is no room for misinterpretation. Communication and support begins from day one, this is a priority. In turn, this must be supported at all levels. Female officers can be a valuable asset in the field of corrections.

I touched on many issues related to “Women in Corrections” and want to try and put this in perspective. More women are entering the corrections work force and we must be prepared to meet the needs of corrections. Recent research reflects the following initiatives must be in place to provide the opportunity for training and advancement. This can also include mixed-gender and gender-specific training; use of role models and mentors to assist in providing guidance, experience, and support. We must ensure all staff know the boundaries of inmate and staff interaction and relationships. Corrections administrators have the responsibility to support women in the work place. The opportunity is now to maximize the use of females in corrections.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at criminaljustice@kaplan.edu .

Other articles by Campbell


  1. Joell6691 on 06/09/2013:

    My question more or less can a female correctional officer transport a male inmate, legally asking, I keep getting answers from supervisors PREA says no!!!! (Prison Rate Elimination Act)

  2. Fred Davis on 04/23/2013:

    When natural laws are violated there are unintended consequences, Men and women are different, The majority has often been wrong.

  3. Writing Prof on 04/17/2013:

    Agreed! We need women at the front end (police, courts, attorneys), and within the prison systems (staff, guards, supervisors, wardens). We need them because they probelm solving differs from men (not better, jsut different. We need them because they are half the Outside World and should be represented within The Walls. I have re-posted a segmant of this essay on my blog prisongrievances.com Keep the dialogue going!

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