New York's Prison Guards Are 45% Female

The New York Times had a long feature article this week about women prison guards in New York.

Women make up 45 percent of about 9,300 uniformed employees of the department, according to the agency. From guards to wardens to the four-star chief, Carolyn Thomas, they fill almost every rank. And in many respects, they are changing the culture of the city’s jails.

Walk down the corridors of any of the city’s 11 active jails, and it is clear that not only are there a high number of female officers, but a majority of those women — 75 percent — are black, said Stephen Morello, a department spokesman. They are former soldiers, beauticians and bank tellers. They are single mothers who took the job to support their children.

It's hard to think of a more stressful (or from my point of view, sadder) job. [More...]

I spend a lot of time in jails, but nothing compared to a guard. I don't even get to see where the inmates live -- just the visiting rooms. But I hear plenty from my clients about what goes on, and every time I leave a jail or prison, especially those with big electronic doors where one has to shut behind you before the one in front of you opens, I say a little "thank you" for my freedom.

The Times reports that prison guard jobs pay really well in New York -- up to $75k a year -- and a college degree isn't necessary.

Ask any woman in the city’s Correction Department why she wanted a job that brings with it such stress and potential danger, and she’ll tell you that it’s the security. Such a career, in which no college degree is required and the top yearly pay for an officer is $75,000, can mean the difference between a life of hardship and a ticket into the middle class.

One woman guard is asked about the challenges she faced "moving up through the ranks." I think her response is true for a lot of professions where traditionally men have far outnumbered women-- and very well said:

“You have to do your job 10 times better than a male to prove yourself, and you do that by not asking for anything special,” said Ms. Thomas, wearing a starched white shirt with four gold stars on the collar. In a lament commonly heard among women in male-dominated jobs, she added: “You’re proving yourself in the sense that ‘I can do this job as good as you can. I don’t belong to a clique. I don’t belong to anything.’ ”
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    I have mixed feelings about (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 08:02:30 AM EST
    so many female prison guards.  It isn't a job that I could do.  I would become depressed because the system isn't fair.  It would eat me up incarcerating people I suspected were innocent.  I couldn't serve as a soldier either, my heart and mind are too severely attached to each other and I can't be convinced to go to war just because someone else says I need to.  I deeply respect the women in these occupations though who are breaking this ground because both of these jobs require a certain physical stature and presence that has long been denied women in our culture.  It is one more step in the direction of equality and as Janis Karpinski demonstrated concerning Abu Ghraib, women bring with them their conscience and awareness into these situations.  It can be a plus to society as a whole to have those consciences and awarenesses present in those situations.

    "so many innocent" (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 07:48:54 PM EST
    Most people who make it to prison (as opposed to charges being dropped due to weak evidence, plea bargain, etc) are guilty of the crime.  The large majority of those who were innocent of the particular crime they were charged with were guilty of other crimes for which they were never caught or charged.  The police do tend to catch "known suspects" who might get caught for a given crime they didn't do.  The incidence of Sunday School teachers being randomly framed and imprisoned (as opposed to getting probation if they had a clean prior record) is rare.  

    savage ironies in prison nation (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by wreck on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 08:18:46 AM EST
    It stinks that the US's systemic racism and the prison complex only make it possible for low income women of color to work into the middle class by incarcerating black men (in record numbers) and undermining the sustainability of their/our communities.

    Not (none / 0) (#6)
    by Wile ECoyote on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 12:35:52 PM EST
    black on black violence?

    The New York, Chicago and Los Angeles Jails (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by JSN on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 09:15:46 AM EST
    are the three largest in the US and they are very different from medium sized and small jails. From what was reported in the article   the NY City Jail staff interviewed appear to be professional and the jail has services for prisoners that a small jail cannot afford to provide. However it does seem that their pretrial prisoners are there for a long time. If you overload the CJ system the backlog sits in jail waiting for their case to be processed.

    To be qualified to be a correction officer you have to have a clean record and not use drugs. Unfortunately this means that Black females are more likely to satisfy those conditions than Black males and Black males with clean records who do not use drugs have more employment options than females. I think it is a good thing for Blacks to enter the middle class and it appears from the article the Black female correction officers have been doing a good job for many years.

    A badly overcrowded jail can be very dangerous (even with an experienced and well trained staff) but I think the NY Jail has been able to reduce their total jail population and because they have more than one jail they can move prisoners between jails to reduce the risk of conflict.

    Correction officer have to confront reality many times per day and they tend to be pretty pragmatic. It was interesting to read about how they did not want their neighbors in their jail (for very good reasons) but in a small jail that is unavoidable.

    I wouldn't do that job.... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 09:00:27 AM EST
    for all the tea in China.  

    It would be a nice raise and better benefits, but at what cost to the soul?

    Like Cool Hand Luke said...."Calling it your job don't make it right, Boss."

    the soul? (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 07:40:54 PM EST
    Would it perhaps be cleaner to have more death penalty crimes rather than life without parole?  After all, having legions of life without parole inmates require having legions of soul-deadened corrections officers.

    In Praise (none / 0) (#5)
    by themomcat on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 10:25:27 AM EST
    of the women in the Corrections Department, they are doing the job that many a white man or even white woman would shun, to support their families by  doing a dangerous job. Bless them. Support them.