Women Working in Community Corrections: How We Got Here and What We Learned along the Way
Walker, S. Anne, Corrections Today
In 2000, a paper presented at the Women in Corrections: Staff and Clients conference held in Australia included these words from Suzie Morris, manager, Alcohol and Other Drugs, HIV Health Promotions, Department of Corrective Services, NSW: "Being a young woman in the early 60s, it was preordained that I would do one of three possible occupations or get married. The choices were hairdressing, nursing or secretarial, and of course marriage and children. Being a free thinker, I decided to try out all three options, forget about the marriage part and then become a hippy. So how did a free spirit eventually take the plunge and work for the system? It began a long time ago. In hindsight I can see how all three of the occupations I have already mentioned had a therapeutic slant to them. It stood to reason that at some point I would get told that I was a 'good listener.' After all, things get very personal when you're washing someone's hair or giving someone a sponge bath or making up excuses to a boss's wife as to why they are working late."
The career choices for women in 2005 are much greater than they were in the early 1960s, thanks to women like Morris who were willing to take the plunge. Today, approximately 50 percent of the work force in community corrections, including those working in state corrections, community-based programs, state and federal probation, and profit and nonprofit community-based correctional agencies, are women. In comparison, as late as 1969, although women made up 40 percent of the adult labor force, they accounted for only 12 percent of the total correctional work force. (1)
In 1987, a set of factors that proved to be successful for women in corrections was identified. These factors emphasize strategic planning, communication and decision-making. (2) Additionally, the following represents a list of factors female executives have identified as having been important to their career: Help from above--not usually from one person but from several people over time; consistently realizing outstanding achievement in technical competence, professionalism, leadership, and the ability to spot and head off problems; a commitment to success with a determination to push until the job is done; superior interpersonal skills and an ability to manage subordinates; willingness to undertake risks and the challenges necessary to grow professionally and be visible in the workplace; and the ability to be tough, decisive and demanding.
The following women understand the importance of the above mentioned characteristics. They have worked in the field of community corrections for a collective 155 years. As female executives in community corrections, they were asked to share their personal stories as to why they made their career choices and what they learned along the way. Included in their individual stories are some of the challenges they have faced throughout their professional journeys. They each have excelled in their own way as shown by their successful careers. These women were asked to share their experiences because they represent a variety of community corrections programs throughout the United States.
--S. Anne Walker. Special thanks to Diane Kincaid, APPA, and Geraldine Lockhart, Alston Wilkes Society, for their research assistance.
Finding My Passion
President and CEO Leaders in Community Alternatives Inc. in San Francisco.
I have worked in the criminal justice field for 31 years--I am one of the lucky few that found my passion my first job after college. I started as an aide for the public defender's office in Baltimore and was immediately pulled in by seeing the tragedy of 10-year-olds committing crimes. I had to do something to help. I also worked for five years as a correctional officer in a federal prison, and the revolving door further peaked my interest.
Once I began working in a federal halfway house, I found my niche in the community helping men and women during that critical transition period. …