Sexual Harassment: Women Who Work in Prisons

I can understand why women want jobs in federal prisons: the prisons are usually located in rural areas where decent-paying jobs are scarce, and they are often the main employer in the area. Caitlin Dickerson of the New York Times explains that few women worked in federal prisons until the 1970s when a series of legal decisions in a changing social environment forced the Bureau of Prisons to allow equal access to jobs. While the prison population is 93 percent male, and male employees vastly outnumber female employees, ten thousand women now make up a third of the bureau’s workforce, holding jobs ranging from secretary to regional director. The problem for women working in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system is that they have never been fully accepted as equals by their male colleagues and supervisors. Long before #MeToo, in 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a strongly worded report saying that sexual harassment claims were routinely mishandled and retaliation was unusually high for women employed by the Bureau of Prisons. In 2017, the House Oversight Committee opened an investigation and found gross mismanagement of sexual harassment claims and rewards and promotions for staff accused of sexual harassment against female colleagues. While lawsuits have been filed and settled against the bureau, the culture and practices have not changed, and the EEOC has no power to force these changes. Some examples of the abusive workplace environment that women working in prisons must endure include the following:

  • Inmates grope, threaten, and expose themselves.
  • Male colleagues undermine the authority of female officers by encouraging male inmates to harass them.
  • Some male colleagues join in the harassment themselves.
  • While women who file harassment claims face retaliation, the careers of many harassers and those who protect them flourish.
  • In one instance, a female case manager was raped by an inmate, then she was criminally charged with raping him when she complained.
  • High ranking officers accused of sexual harassment, and their supervisors who protect them, are often transferred to other prisons with promotions while the women who were abused by them are shunned and blackballed from promotion opportunities.
These working conditions for female employees in federal prisons are outrageous. Clearly there is no motivation or will in the leadership of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to change this culture. Perhaps the wave of women newly elected to Congress will decide to put focus and pressure on the bureau to finally change the culture and treat women fairly and respectfully. Let’s all raise this issue with our new congresswomen and see if something can be done to change this situation.   Photo courtesy of VisualHunt (CC0 1.0)]]>