|New Female Correctional Officers - What Can I Expect?|
|By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers|
As an instructor, there are many questions that trainees have that I can answer. However over the years there has been one recurring question that I’m asked that I still haven’t been able to answer: What can a new female CO expect once they start working inside a prison?
Well, for obvious reasons I can’t answer from first-hand experience so I did the next best thing, I asked those who do have it. I posed this question to female correctional officers on a few social media correctional groups: What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a female correctional officer? Holy crapstick Batman! The response that I got was enormous. Not so much on the public side but the private messages!
I will say that this, by no means, was a scientific survey and that although I did have some preconceived ideas as to what may be said nothing really prepared me for what actually was said.
Not surprisingly the most common answer that I received was sexual comments and/or actions from offenders. Instances of offenders exposing themselves and masturbation were the most popular answers.
The next most popular answer can be encapsulated into one category: Physical appearance.
Apparently what you look like plays a big role in how you are treated. Both former and current female correctional officers reported that attractive female officers were repeatedly being hit on by staff members (both male and female regardless of their sexual orientation and/or marital status) and in some cases were even sexually harassed. In some cases, these “attractive” officers were not allowed to work as hard as other officers simply because the males wanted to do it for them. This was a big point of contention for the females since they were perfectly capable of doing it themselves and in the overwhelming majority of cases WANTED to do it themselves. There were however those females that blatantly stated that they took advantage of male staff members just so that they would not have to work hard. Luckily enough this was the minority of respondents. “Attractive” females also stated that in some cases they were not taken seriously based on their appearance. The “not-so-attractive” females did not receive the same treatment and in some cases had to work even harder in order to get the job done.
I’m going to stop right here for a minute.
Gentlemen (if this applies to you), we are better than that. There is no excuse for this type of behavior even if it does not come anywhere near sexual harassment. It does not matter how “hot” or “fugly” you THINK she is, you have to remember that she wears the same uniform that you do and they have to be treated with the same respect that you would show a male officer. “Beauty” and “brains” are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for someone to have both…or lack both. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Off the soapbox now…
This last most popular one somewhat surprised me: competition between female C.O.’s. Respondents said that as a new officer they were “scoped out” by some veteran female C.O.’s as soon as they arrived. One stated that the look she got from others was a “who’s this hoochie mama?” kind of look. Others stated that they were not given or offered any help as a new officer from the veteran females (much worse than what males go through) and that it was still a very much male dominated atmosphere.
Almost all respondents said that after they either “proved” themselves or “put someone in their place” they were able to move on and do the job that is expected of them, even promoting through the ranks. It should be noted that all respondents made it clear that the great majority of staff were the consummate professionals that our agencies expect from us. Kudos to those that took the new officers under their wing and showed them how to get through these challenges. Corrections has never been an easy profession and never will be. Not everyone has the internal fortitude for it. Let’s ensure that the challenges that are faced by new staff are not of our own doing.
As to whether I’ll answer them now with what I have learned? I’ll do what I’ve been doing this entire time when asked: I’ll point to myself, index fingers going from head to toe and ask them “do you think I have experience in that area?” then I’ll tell them that they can expect offenders to act in a manipulative manner along with sexual comments/acts yet they have to remain professional and that if they have any particular/specific questions on how other females dealt with these situations they can ask a female officer/instructor since they have the experience.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.
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