|The Role of the Male Correctional Worker in Female Prisons|
|By Kamaru Claggion|
A topic that is rarely discussed in the Corrections profession, is the importance of the male correctional workers role in women’s prisons. Female offenders have unique treatment needs and a different set of problems than men that may call for correctional treatment and approaches to be tailored. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (2014), incarcerated woman have significantly higher rates of severe substance abuse histories, co-occurring mental health disorders, and high rates of past treatment for both. In addition, 50 percent of female offenders have experienced physical or sexual abuse and are more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence. Many female offenders have suffered trauma at the hands of the men they once trusted which can cause chemical and structural changes in the brain and can affect future reactions along with the ability to respond to interventions (American Jail Association, 2015).
The role of the male correctional worker in a woman’s prison is to be a positive role model for the offenders and the alternative example for them in regard to how a man should conduct themselves and treat them. Men who have success in woman’s prison are those who are aware of the unique needs of their populations and have the skill set to be attentive to those needs. As mentioned earlier, a large percent of the female offender population have experienced physical, abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence; Men correctional workers should always keep in mind those traumatic experiences and the triggers that may cause a negative reaction from the offender such as loud voice tones and slammed doors. Communication and relationships are very important to female offenders. They will go to segregation for each other to be near each other. They cry often and it is common for them to communicate through written notes. Female offenders have to know the “why” before becoming involved with anything. If a male correctional worker doesn’t possess the ability to communicate effectively with female offenders then the chance for making change in the offender’s lives is decreased.
Many women are lead to prison because of their unhealthy relationships with men (American Jail Association, 2015). They may have had an abusive father, brother, boyfriend or husband that may have steered them toward criminal behavior. The predominant man in a woman’s life becomes the guidepost to what to expect of men and what to expect of men’s attitudes towards women. A lot of women in prison have never been around pro-social men in their lives. The negative influence of what they have learned from past experiences with men have shaped their minds to believe that all men behave in that negative manner. The male correctional worker could possibly be the first positive experience that the female offender has encountered which can serve to give them a different and positive perspective of what to expect from a man. A man who works in a Woman’s prison must be aware of the “big picture” and know that they just may have the ability have the biggest influence on the offender’s success or failure after she releases from prison. Regardless of if he accepts the responsibility, his relationship and how he responds to every incident and to every encounter with the offender is being watched and could be the template for the type of positive character that the offender will allow in her life after she is released.
Being that the female offender population is so unique and different from the male offender population, it is important that correctional facilities offer training specific to working with women emphasizing communication, vulnerability of the population, sexual misconduct, and the high rate of abuse that most female offenders experience. Before a male walks into a female facility to perform his duties he should be well aware of what is at stake so that he does no more harm to the offender and is self-aware of his behavior. What is not to be ignored is that for all males who work in a woman’s prison, accusations of misconduct will occur even if it could not be further from the truth. Men have to be aware of their surroundings, professional, and firm, fair, and consistent at all times. A great quality for a male correctional worker to have in a woman’s prison is the ability to recognize when they are being “groomed” or flirted with by an offender. Is the offender dressing differently? Does the offender go out of her way to speak with me with nothing valid to speak about? Is the offender testing me by making inappropriate comments? Those are things that the male staff must be able to recognize and watch for so they can address the behavior immediately. In many cases, the offender craves the attention of a pro-social male. Male staff can also do things to err on the side of caution to protect themselves while also making the offender feel safe such as limiting one on one encounters, keeping doors open during open door hours, and making sure that they are visible to other staff when interacting with offenders. These are strategies that can be used to set boundaries for offenders so that they know that the staff is professional and so that inappropriate lines don’t get crossed.
Most men who work in female prisons don’t recognize or have any idea about their level of importance in prisons and the major impact that they can have on the offender population. Their role is to provide the offenders with a positive male to look up to and respect which is the total opposite of the men who has caused physical and mental trauma in their lives prior to coming to prison. Having the knowledge of the type of population that they are supervising can contribute to them taking their jobs more seriously and making conscious decisions to help the offender to develop into a productive member of society.
Kamaru Claggion has worked for the Washington State Department of Corrections for 10 years, primarily in a medium security adult male prison. During his time there, he has been a Correctional Officer, Classifications Counselor 3, Community Corrections Officer 3 and Assistant Deputy Compact Administrator. He is also the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) investigator for the DOC. He holds a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice from Kaplan University and is currently working towards his Doctorate in Pastoral Community Counseling. Kamaru has instructed and lead offender behavior change programs, defensive tactics and yearly in-service training for DOC staff. He enjoys supervising classifications staff and managing caseloads of offenders as a counselor to assist them in a successful reentry into the community.
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