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Women in Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 05/11/2015

Femaleofficer Our topic this month looks at “Women in Corrections.” As you know, the corrections field has traditionally been male dominated. However, due to Federal Court Rulings and State Legislation, this has changed over the years. “The world has changed. If we look at corrections 20 to 30 years ago, the types of behaviors we rewarded and promoted people for, are the behaviors we sometimes discipline people for today. We value treating people the right way; this is not a function of gender.” (Patricia Caruso, Director, Michigan Department of Corrections).

The correction field is steadily increasing the number of female officers, supervisors, and administrators. Females are proving themselves as successful officers and leaders in the corrections field. They have worked very hard to be recognized over the years and overcame many hurdles and barriers. These early female staff set the tone and direction for female officers today. Overall, female staff has very good interpersonal skills and are more effective than their male counterparts in problem solving. Additional research review reflects some additional positive traits and skill sets females provide:
  • Assist the inmate in recognizing the benefits of addressing those issues that led them to prison. This can improve the opportunities in reducing recidivism.
  • Some additional skill sets the female has may include the following: The ability to effectively communicate not only with staff but the inmates as well. They possess a certain amount of empathy and understanding to effectively manage conflict resolution.
  • Many female officers present a ‘non-confrontational’ style in resolving conflict.
  • Female staff is able to relate more effectively and adapt to the changing focus on ‘rehabilitation, therapy, and reintegration back into society’ issues.
  • Correctional agencies must maintain a balance of male and female staff.
  • There is no doubt upon the positive influence female staff bring to the corrections environment and culture. This includes an impact upon the inmate population, staff, and the workplace.
A “1984 study by R. Etheridge, reflects being hired and assigned to a post is only the beginning. The most important elements that a woman can bring to a job are confidence that she can do the job and a realistic approach to deal with and learn more from difficulties.”

My personal observations and corrections background allowed me to promote the first female assistant warden at a male prison. This individual had an extensive corrections and training background. She possessed the necessary skill sets, communicated effectively, responded well in addressing the daily challenges faced in corrections, and presented a calming effect with the inmate population. Now you may ask, was she promoted because she was a female? The answer is no! She had the credentials and provided the best interview. She earned this promotion and exceeded all expectations. Later, this individual was promoted to warden at a male institution where she continued to excel.

The 2006 US Bureau of Labor Statistics provided some interested statistics for review.
  • “127,000 women (28%) working as bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers compared with 324,000 men.
  • 15,000 women working as first-line supervisors (29%) compared with 37,000 men.
  • There is a 13% increase in the number of additional first line supervisory staff projected for corrections between 2006 and 2016.”
One question to ask, do all states have similar representation of females in corrections. The short answer is no. Some states do a better job with this than others. US Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2006-2007 reflect the State of Mississippi with the highest number of female staff in corrections at all levels. There are fourteen states with 35% of their administrators being female. This same research reflects an increase in the number of female administrators in other state and federal prisons. A Bureau of Justice Statistics study for Women in Law Enforcement, 1987-2008 reflects employment of females in Bureau of Prisons at 12% in 1998 and in 2008 there were 14% females employed in the Bureau of Prisons. Again as I mentioned earlier, some agencies have room for improvement. I provided some additional thoughts for the occasional slow change in corrections. This relates to the so-called ‘Good ole boy system’ active in some states. What I mean by this is the political system in place that rewards administrative and/other jobs for those with little or no experience. Some correctional systems have limitations in place where females and males are restricted in working directly with offenders of the opposite gender. This will vary state to state.

There are more females in the United States than males and more females will possess more college hours and degrees than men. The opportunity for entry level positions and upward mobility are very favorable for females. This is an ideal opportunity for female promotional advancement in corrections. Along with this, females must prepare themselves for advancement. This can be as simple as reviewing the job description you are interested in and ensure you know what the qualifications are, including experience and education. You are advancing your career opportunities and this can be a goal. Work toward completing those requirements and be prepared when the time arrives for an interview. Females are going to play an important role in the future of corrections. Many females pioneered corrections to establish females in the workplace. Now, female staff has an obligation to continue setting the tone and directions for other females to take this to the next level.

I provided several references below for your review and consideration.
  • Women Professionals in Corrections: A Growing Asset: https://www.mtctrains.com/.../WomenProfessionalsInCorrections-Aug08....
  • Association of Women Executives in Corrections: www.awec.us/
Remember, female staff is part of the ongoing positive changes we see in corrections. The role female corrections staff cannot be over emphasized. The field of corrections is a very difficult environment to work in and at times presents dangerous and unsafe work conditions. Yet, this field is rewarding when we can observe the positive results that can occur. Corrections will continue to grow and present many opportunities for advancement. Please take advantage of this and be prepared when the opportunity occurs. You also set the tone and direction on a daily basis and in the eyes of others you can be a positive role model.

Thanks and good luck with your career.

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 tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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