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The correctional system is male-dominated, both from the perspective of correctional officers and offenders. In the recent past, there has been a notable increase in the number of female correctional officers. At the same time, the amount of women offenders in the correctional system has also been increasing. The raise in the number of females working in the correctional system can be attributed to the feminist movement of the 1970s. It advocated for equality between men and women (Smith & Loomis, 2013). The feminist movement was largely successful with respect to induction in the employment of females in the military, correctional, emergency services and law enforcements, which had been all previously dominated by men. Although women have managed to gain an entry into conventionally masculine spaces, an achievement gap is still evident since there are very few ones in leadership positions. Moreover, they are often the victims of discrimination based on their perceived sexual orientation, gender, and race (Nink, 2008). In addition, women who have been successful in these male dominated fields are less likely to be married. Gender issues in correctional settings have resulted in numerous unintended outcomes. For instance, the increasing number of female inmates has raised the amount of women under the supervision of men. It, in its turn, heightens the risk of sexual victimization for female inmates (Smith, 2012). Furthermore, gender issues have reduced the privacy of women and men cellmates. The cases of prohibited contact between male and female correctional workers and inmates have also been documented in correctional settings. This paper explores these gender issues related to those ones living and working in corrections.

Gender Issues for Workers in the Correctional System

The Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act played a crucial role in facilitating the entry of female workers into corrections. In the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the Supreme Court and Congress established an influential legal doctrine that sought to ensure as follows. Women ought to have a place in professions previously dominated by men (Smith & Loomis, 2013). The Title VII expanded the definition of employment discrimination to entail discrimination against females (Smith & Loomis, 2013). Moreover, this legislation provided them with a remedy against discriminatory behaviors of employers. Even though the Title VII offered some opportunities for women to enjoy equal employment rights, the law did not anticipate their experiences in male-dominated careers and the coping approaches that could help them to adapt to the masculine cultures associated with these professions (Smith & Loomis, 2013). With the Civil Rights movement gaining momentum during the 1960s, the Congress commenced developing the law that aimed to eliminate racial discrimination, which had been prevalent at that time. Through the Title VII under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Congress outlawed any form of employment discrimination based on color and race (Nink, 2008). This law made it illegal for federal employers to decline hiring a person based on any discriminatory reason (Smith & Loomis, 2013). Even though the legal regulation targeted ending discriminatory employment practices, the provisions of the Title VII did not initially include women. The leading opponent of the bill, Representative Howard Smith, presented an amendment that sought to add females as protected individuals under the law, which had been passed by the House (Smith & Loomis, 2013). Therefore, the Title VII considers as the illegal employment practice for an employer to reject hiring or dismissing any person, or discriminating any individual with regard to employment privileges, conditions, terms, and compensation based on the person’s nationality, sex, religion, sex, and color of skin (Smith, 2012). The 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act widened the scope of the Title VII to include workers under local and state governments. The subsequent interpretation of the Title VII by the Courts indicates that the law seeks to create and expand employment opportunities for women (Bartels & Gaffney, 2011). As a result, a significant number of female workers have been documented in conventionally male-dominated professions such as corrections. In general, the impact of the Title VII legislation is that the amount of women as employees in correctional setting has increased significantly over the decades. However, the distribution of workers in the correctional system based on gender is still disproportionate with male ones comprising the majority. According to the latest Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities conducted in 2005, there were 148,203 female employees in the correctional system. They comprised 33% of all workers in the American correctional system (Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS], 2005).

Another gender issue is that there are few female correctional workers in top-level positions within correctional institutions (Belknap, 2014). While the Title VII helped improve the chances of women being employed in professions previously controlled by men, females still had some difficulties accessing leadership ranks within these organizations. Employers who were enthusiastic about recruiting them only assigned them to administrative and clerical positions whereas higher-paying dangerous, practical, and technical jobs were reserved for men in order to protect females from workplace hazards (Bartels & Gaffney, 2011). Therefore, even amidst the increased employment opportunities for women after the Title VII passage, they were still left out in several positions, especially those jobs characterized by a better pay or leadership roles within organizations (Smith & Loomis, 2013). During the 1970s, female correctional employees were excluded from working in most contact positions. The reason was related to the fears that women could be overpowered and manipulated easily by male inmates (Smith & Loomis, 2013). In order to ensure that females were not stationed in contact jobs, correctional institutions adopted weight and height restrictions. Such ones resulted in the disqualification of majority of women applicants seeking to work in the correctional system (Belknap, 2014). Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, in the case called Dothard v. Rawlinson,eliminated the weight and height requirements for working in certain contact points in correctional facilities (Smith & Loomis, 2013). The Court maintained that these restrictions contradicted with the provisions outlined in the Title VII. It also excluded about 41.13 percent of the female population in the US and only 1 percent of the male one. Following the Court’s ruling, the recent decades have seen a significant increase in employment opportunities for women in the correctional system (Smith & Loomis, 2013). For instance, in 2001, they comprised only 24.5 percent of the correctional employees stationed in custodial facilities handling male inmates. In 2008, female employees constituted 42 percent of the staff working in juvenile facilities and 40 percent of all adult correctional employees (Smith & Loomis, 2013). Despite these substantial gains in employment opportunities for women in the correctional system, very few women have leadership responsibilities.

Moreover, although the provisions outlined in the Title VII legislations have increased the number of female correctional employees, male correctional officers rarely perceive women colleagues as equals. Female correctional workers are the victims of diverse stereotypes such as “women cannot manage or get the job done”. The reason is that the positions have the masculine nature (Belknap, 2014). Smith (2012) points out that male workers in correctional facilities do not see their female co-workers as a component of their work culture. Instead, they consider female presence as something being distracting or disruptive. In this respect, male employees do not trust their female peers based on the concerns that they are not suited for handling dangerous aspects associated with correctional work. Hence, this distrust can lead to the exclusion of women workers from the work culture completely. In some cases, the distrust can result in their sexual harassment (Nink, 2008). The cases of paternalism of female employees by men in correctional settings have been documented. The rason is that males do not consider their opposite sex peers as their true equals. The result is that men are likely to take on the tasks of their female co-workers, tolerate the mistakes committed by women, or treat them less harshly when compared to how they behave with their male colleagues (Ristroph, 2006). Although these types of behavior seem supportive or accommodative, they tend to hinder the growth of women working in corrections (Nink, 2008; Smith & Loomis, 2013). Eventually, male employees act as protectors of their female peers. They embark on protecting women workers from dangerous assignments. This issue is especially prevalent among females working in male correctional facilities.

Besides being supportive of female correctional employees, some men tend to be hostile to their women peers (Belknap, 2014). Male-dominated work environments such as corrections are sometimes typified by insensitive language and sexual innuendos and jokes. Moreover, supervisors in such working conditions have a tendency of tolerating sexual harassment, even in the cases when this behavior targets a female employee that has not participated in the sexual discrimination (Ristroph, 2006). Owing to the fact that correctional work elevates male aspects like toughness and power, women workers often face some difficulties when trying to assimilate to the work culture (Nink, 2008; Smith & Loomis, 2013). Being unable to cope in a male-dominated environment usually leads to high rates of quitting for females. It further depletes the existing small pool of women working in such correctional settings. Courts have tried to address this issue by expanding the scope of sexual definition under the Title VII to include sexual harassment (Wolff, Blitz, Shi, Bachman, & Siegel, 2006). Regardless of this protection accorded by the courts, women working in correctional facilities still document higher quitting rates when compared to men. This discrimination is further compounded by the fact that female correctional employees have to balance home and work life. It further lowers the retention rates of women’s correctional workforce. For instance, Smith (2012) has showed that female employees in correctional settings experience more a work-family conflict, job stress, reduced job satisfaction, higher turnover, increased utilization of sick days, and higher absenteeism in comparison with their male counterparts. Gender issues are not prevalent for correctional workers but also inmates. They will be discussed in the following section below.

Gender Issues for Inmates

The first gender issue for inmates is that correctional practices and policies have been primarily developed from the perspective of managing men rather than women (Wright, Salisbury, & Van Voorhis, 2007). In general, these regulations used in collections fail to reflect and understand the needs as well as risks of female inmates. The bulk of the existing empirical research initially focused on male cellmates. According to Smith (2012), the early research studies have disregarded gender differences with respect to the classification and assessment procedures for female offenders. The researcher (2012) further notes that 30 percent of state prisons lack practices and policies that are tailored to meet the needs of the women. Belknap (2014) also agrees with Smith (2012) by pointing out that women’s programs in correctional systems including the assessment, screening and classification are not adopted for females. Essentially, the correctional systems fail to consider gender differences that exist between male and female inmates. For instance, the studies have shown that women have lower rates of re-offending, committing serious offenses, and returning to prison when compared to men (Bartels & Gaffney, 2011; Covington & Bloom, 2007; Wolff, Blitz, Shi, Bachman, & Siegel, 2006). Moreover, Bartels, and Gaffney (2011) have equated high-risk women with medium-risk males, and low-risk men with medium-risk ones. Regardless of these differences in the gender profiles of offenders, the correctional system uses universal policies and practices that are tailored in accordance with the need of men (Ristroph, 2006). Various authors cite the need for developing gender-responsive correctional programs since female offenders may be mothers and have more child-rearing obligations when compared to their male counterparts (Griffin, 2006). Women inmates also have less employment history and higher poverty rates before incarceration in comparison with males (Bartels & Gaffney, 2011). Fundamentally, the correctional system must take into account the unique aspects associated with female cellmates and design facilities, programs and policies that meet their distinctive needs.

The second gender issue that affects inmates is cross-gender surveillance and searches. These are the selections involving cellmates and staff of different genders. Cross-gender surveillance and searches have privacy implications for inmates (Smith & Loomis, 2013). Although courts have accepted same-sex searches, they have also maintained that privacy rights of cellmates are guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. It includes the right not to be seen naked by a person of the opposite sex. However, this liberty is limited. Smith (2012) points out that courts have placed more emphasis of these rights for female than male inmates. In this regard, the facilities have consistently been less enthusiastic about protecting the privacy liberties of men cellmates from female correctional officers. It implies that female workers have vast opportunities to touch or view male cellmates (Bartels & Gaffney, 2011). In line with the limited privacy accorded to male imprisoned, the cases of female correctional workers sexually abusing male inmates have been documented in the correctional system (Nink, 2008). Moreover, relationships between male inmates and female correctional workers, as well as male employees and female inmates are an issue in the correctional system (Ristroph, 2006). Sexual connections between correctional workers and inmates are well documented in the literature. They have been a subject of litigations.


This paper has revealed numerous gender issues in corrections affecting both workers and inmates. From the perspective of employees, it is evident that correctional work is often perceived as male-dominated. It results in significant gender implications for the female staff. Although legislative reforms such as the Title VII have been instrumental in increasing the number of female correctional workers, equality in employment is still to be achieved in corrections. It is related to the fact that men still comprise the majority of employees. Moreover, female workers are limited to clerical work having few women in leadership positions. Male employees also do not perceive female correctional colleagues as their equals, resulting in men being protective of women. It, in its turn, hampers the professional growth of females working in corrections. In some cases, sexual harassment by men towards the opposite sex has been documented, which resulted in high work stress, absenteeism and turnover leading to a high number of women leaving the job. From the perspective of inmates, correctional practices and policies are not gender-responsive since they were developed primarily to cater for the needs of male inmates. As a result, the unique necessities of female cellmates are often disregarded. Moreover, cross-gender and relationships between inmates and correctional staff is an important gender issue observed in correctional systems.

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