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Women in Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 11/23/2020

Femaleofficer Our topic for the month of November is ‘Women in Corrections’ and issues they face. I feel we need to mention something about COVID; Coronavirus does not discriminate against gender and ethnicities. Yet gender and ethnicity can be problematic in corrections. We are taught in our academies to be professional and ethical; be firm, fair, and consistent; avoid relationships and overly friendliness with staff and offenders/inmates; anatomy of a setup; sexual harassment; leadership, etc.

One would think these areas would not be a major concern, yet these are often not discussed openly. Female professionals in corrections have made some major improvements to the corrections field. Yes, there is still room for improvements. If a male works in a female prison or if a female works in a male prison; this can create illicit relationships and unfortunately, in some cases, lead to an inmate/officer becoming pregnant. We know the seriousness of this and potential legal concerns.

One would think sexual harassment would not be a major concern. Yet, in some systems this is a concern. Staff are expected to be professional and ethical in the performance of their duties. We are well aware of sexual harassment training and requirements. A working definition is found in the Oxford Dictionary: ‘behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.’ We have been trained in sexual harassment and signed a document to substantiate this; however this still occurs in the workplace. We know what the policy and law requires. This is supported also through the “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” There are available resources to further your knowledge and understanding of this harassment issue. https://www.eeoc.gov/sexual-harassment

Over the years, I have worked for some very good supervisors and some supervisors I am still not sure how they were promoted. However, I identified the pros and cons of leadership and how this can be applied in a variety of circumstances. I used this information to help in preparation for promotion opportunities. There would be interview questions about leadership and supervision. Along with this, I began to plan for promotional opportunities. This included review of the position’s minimum requirements and to see if I met the requirements or additional work would be necessary on my part.

Throughout my career I promoted females to supervisory positions. This was not because they were female, not because I was told to promote a female, but because the female selected met the requirements along with supporting documentation, provided the best interview, and ‘she earned the opportunity.’ Even with the risk of knowing this would not be well received, I provided the opportunity. I also had to ensure I provided the necessary support and training for her to succeed.

From here I would like to build upon the issue of ‘gender in corrections. I found the following information interesting and wanted to share. This data is from October 31, 2020 and can be located at the following: https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_staff_gender.jsp

Staff Gender

  • # of Staff: 26,641
  • % of Staff: 71.5%
  • # of Staff: 10,839
  • % of Staff: 28.5%
Ethnicity of Staff

African American
  • # of Staff: 7,976
  • % of Staff: 21.3%
  • # of Staff: 868
  • % of Staff: 2.3%
  • # of Staff: 4,809
  • % of Staff: 12.8%
Native American
  • # of Staff: 469
  • % of Staff: 1.3%
White (Non-Hispanic)
  • # of Staff: 23,359
  • % of Staff: 62.3%
  • # of Staff: 0
  • % of Staff: 0%
Some interesting numbers from the Bureau of Prisons. From here we will look at the Number of correctional officers and other staff at local jails. This is by gender:

Correctional Officers
  • Male: 119,900
  • Female: 54,600
  • Male: 29,600
  • Female: 26,500
The Bureau of Justice Statistics published an excellent resource titled: Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005. This was published 2008. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csfcf05.pdf

I selected several areas to include for your review:

State and Federal Correctional Facilities, approximately 445,000 employees. (State and Federal correctional Facilities). Male employees outnumbered female employees by a ratio of 2 to 1. Among correctional officers and custody staff working in direct contact with inmates, men outnumbered women by a ratio of 3 to 1.

Number of employees in correctional facilities under state or federal authority, by gender and occupational category:

  • Male: 296,852, 67%
  • Female: 148,203, 33%
Occupational category
  • Administrators: 10,769, 2%
  • Correctional officers: 295,261, 66%
  • Clerical/maintenance: 51,993, 12%
  • Educational: 11,526, 3%
  • Professional/technical: 46,016, 10%
  • Other/not available: 29,489, 7%
Once again, as you see, some interesting data. Yes, in corrections we are seeing an increase in the number of females entering the corrections field. Yet, we also need to consider what number of females are being promoted to supervisory roles. This is improving in some states, while in others additional improvements are still necessary.

As the 2020 Census Data is published, this will enlighten us more toward any positive or negative trends. I mentioned earlier, due to the COVID concerns, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases among inmates, and uniform and non-uniform staff. This has created additional security and health concerns. Corrections is an everyday venture and daily requirements must be met. Again, this will be interesting to review additional data as published and note cases among uniform and non-uniform staff by gender.

Thanks and stay safe out there.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global 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@purdueglobal.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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