CDCR Time Capsule 1987: Females in Corrections

At left, a female correctional officer (no name published in the newsletter). At right, female cadets.

At left, a female correctional officer (no name published in the 1987 newsletter). At right, female cadets.

(Editor’s note: What was then known as the California Department of Corrections published the following story in Correction News in their April 1987 issue, volume 1, number 2. Today, thousands of women fill the ranks of custody staff at every level. Female Correctional Officers have promoted to wardens and other executive level positions. CDCR now offers exceptional opportunities for women to join its custody staff.)

By Sally A. Knornschild

When Daniel J. McCarthy first became a correctional officer in 1949, CDC had a prohibition that women could not work inside a prison. In fact, they weren’t even allowed to go on tours. As late as 1967, the institutions were requesting “male only” lists for clerical positions on up. Special classifications were created, such as Women’s Correctional Supervisor (WCS), to be used in the women’s correctional facilities.

Although the WCS classification was equivalent to correctional officer, females were required to meet more qualifications than their male counterparts. The promotional opportunities for women were limited because there were only two places to promote: California Institution for Women and the Women’s Unit at California Rehabilitation Center.

Eventually, CDC saw the competency of these pioneering females and increased their opportunities for upward mobility. By 1971, women were working in almost every classification at the institutions.

During recent interviews, Director McCarthy and Chief Deputy Director Jim Gomez expressed mutual philosophies and concerns regarding females in corrections.

“CDC’s philosophy has already been shown,” said McCarthy. “The last director, Ruth Rushen, was a female. Consequently, I feel anything is available to any employee, regardless of their gender, if they have the proper motivation, background experience and education.”

CDC Director Daniel J. McCarthy, left, speaks to a female employee (no name published).

CDC Director Daniel J. McCarthy, left, speaks to a female employee (no name published).

Gomez agreed that females have made a significant contribution to the department.

“CDC has a responsibility to provide opportunities to all the populations we deal with. I think that Central Office has been very successful in hiring women and the provision of management jobs. We have quite a few high level women managers in the department, so I think we are beginning to have an impact,” Gomez said. “But the areas that need more attention are the institutions and parole regions.”

The department’s leaders feel very strongly that the majority of the promotions at the institutions must come from within the ranks. The promotional opportunities in correctional facilities are offered to those people who have performed a wide range of duties with a particular emphasis on a custody background. It’s a logical sequence.

To attain the ability to have women represented throughout the promotional ladder at all institutions, CDC has targeted recruitment efforts toward females.

“Women make up nearly half the workforce. We need to make sure they’re half the workforce in corrections. Any ideas or solutions to increase female representation will be well received,” according to McCarthy.

The director and chief deputy director agree there are pockets of resistance toward females in corrections.

“I just won’t tolerate it,” McCarthy emphatically said. “If it comes to my attention, I will take serious steps to eliminate it.”

We have come a long way in the last 20 years. However, we need to continue working toward addressing the issues of representation and retention at all levels of the organization.

(Editor’s note: Learn more about the history of women in corrections http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/2015/03/unlocking-history-pioneering-women-blazed-trails-in-cdcr-custody-staff/)

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2 Responses

  1. David Higginbotham Wednesday, October 19, 2016 / 7:26 pm

    In regards to the picture above, and to “piggyback” on Ms. Hill’s comment, pictured is Sergeant Irma Nava, as indicated by the chevrons visible on her sleeve. It was an honor to work the Transportation Unit, and also to know Irma Nava.

  2. Barbara Hill Wednesday, September 28, 2016 / 1:58 pm

    First woman in black jumpsuit was Irma Nava. She was also the first woman to work in Departmental Transportation team. She was an amazing employee.

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