|Then and Now: Why Women are Integral to A Successful Corrections System|
|By Gary York|
Another reason for the sudden interest in women and minorities in the corrections field was the amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other legislation that opened doors for female officers. Prisons had been exposed for operating in an unconstitutional manner. It took some states longer than others to come around to accept these changes but eventually everyone got on board, however not without some resistance from male officers and some upper management. The male dominated field would now begin changing its role not only with gender but with a new focus of rehabilitation and therapy as opposed to control and discipline. Safety and control would remain an important factor but convincing some people women should work in corrections would be a difficult task. It would take several years to prove to everyone that the mixture of male and female officers was a good approach to handling discipline as well as conflict resolution and understanding.
Over the decades we as professionals have come to realize everyone has their own set of skills. Men and women do not differ in that area. Some excel faster than others. The bottom line is we all need to work together as a team and use each other’s skill set to the advantage of the agency and the success of completing our mission. Men would have to learn not let their ego get in the way of safety and security. If a female officer can quell a disturbance just by her voice or presence then step back and allow her to de-escalate the situation. It does not matter who calms the storm. The goal is to maintain “Safety and Control” of the prison and everyone go home safe at the end of the shift. When the inmates see all officers, male and female working together as a team a strong message is sent to the inmates. The inmates will begin to realize they cannot separate the officers and manipulate them. Inmates play on weakness and cannot stand to see officers work together as one. Their goal is to play officers against each other and separate the weak link like mountain lions that prey on mule deer affected with a disease. Keep the chain strong when dealing with inmates. Discuss any differences away from sight and sound of any inmates.
“With confidence, you have won before you have started” (Marcus Garvey)
“Knowledge is power, if you can control information, you can control people.” (Tom Clancy)
Interpersonal skills can be used by men and women of all sizes. I have seen big strong male officers injured by inmates as well as female officers injured by inmates. I have seen a female officer five feet tall talk an inmate into compliance. If force is necessary we wait for back-up if we can. If we must defend ourselves on the spot then fight to go home at the end of shift. No one has ever said being a correctional officer is easy. It is dangerous, stressful and tiring. Correctional officers face each day with only pepper spray and their fellow officers to back-up them up against inmates who exercise daily and get plenty of rest. Male or female officers can both fall prey to inmates if you allow them to manipulate you. It all comes down to being firm and standing your ground. This can be done without being disrespectful. For example, inmate Jones walks by and states, “Officer Smith your hair looks very nice today”, Officer Smith replies, “Inmate Jones it is not your job to worry about my hair, carry on with your business.” Inmate Jones was fishing for a reaction. If Officer Smith would have said thank you she would have been wrong. In this case she was firm but not disrespectful. If inmate Jones would have continued with more compliments then it would be time to write him up for “Disrespect”. Once the inmates realize you cannot be played the respect will follow and your job will be easier.
Female officers should be mindful not to wear their clothing too tight, never put up with sexual harassment from inmates or co-workers, do not get complacent and always be firm, fair and consistent. Not only your words but your appearance and actions tell the inmates a lot about you. Save the fancy make-up, painted nails and shiny ear rings for your home life, it is not for prison. Inmates look for anything to compliment you on.
Today the highest ranking person in the Florida Department of Corrections is a woman. Secretary Julie L. Jones runs the third largest prison system in the United States. Many women across our country are now wardens, jail administrators or elected sheriffs and appointed chief of police. Women in corrections have evolved into leaders and are here to stay. By the way my wife is a 32 1/2 year veteran correctional officer and she gives me good advice and makes us both strong because we work together for the same common goal.
Gary York is a retired Senior Prison Inspector and is an Ethics and Crisis Intervention Instructor. He is also the author of the books "Corruption Behind Bars" and "Inside the Inner Circle".
Other Articles by Gary York.
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