By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor, OPEC
Today’s rehabilitative efforts in the state prison system can be traced back to the early days of the department. More than a century ago, visionary wardens pushed for job training, education and family engagement so former inmates could reintegrate back into society after being released from prison. Like the definition of visionary, these leaders implemented original ideas and planned the future with “imagination or wisdom.” This series takes a closer look at some of these wardens and their contributions to shaping what would become today’s CDCR. This is the sixth part in the series.
Kathleen Anderson, California Institution for Women
A few years after the first woman was hired as a correctional officer in a men’s prison, a former educator and widowed mother of three became the highest ranking female in the state prison system when she took over as warden of California Institution for Women (CIW).
In 1963, Kathleen Anderson wanted to take a tour of CIW but was told only employees were allowed inside. Rather than taking no for an answer, she decided on another way to get what she wanted.
“Well, I decided right then to come back and get a job here and I did,” she told the Chino Champion, Feb. 2, 1976.
“Anderson began her correctional career low on the ladder at the California Institution for Women in 1963, and now she’s back where she started, but in the top job. Mrs. Anderson was transferred back to CIW from Soledad. She is now responsible for overseeing the smooth operation of the women’s facility, from education to custodial to medical, and anything else in between. She succeeded Brook Carey, who resigned,” the Champion reported.
She was appointed superintendent (today known as warden) by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., on March 19, 1976, and her appointment was confirmed by the Senate on May 13, 1976, according to Senate records.
Anderson was the first African American female warden in the state. She had already made headlines with her post as an associate warden at Soledad, which she held for almost two years before taking over as CIW’s warden.
“Her tenure at Soledad made her the first woman in the country to hold a position of that much authority in a men’s facility,” the Champion reported. “During her sojourn at Soledad, Mrs. Anderson was active in unifying the female employees at the institution. She was involved in a women’s conference at Soledad where the women were made aware of the opportunities available to them shortly before her promotion to CIW.”
She told the newspaper, “I changed the administration’s ideas at Soledad as to what women should be allowed to do. Now, finally, they are letting women get involved in something more than just clerical work at the men’s facilities. Women are now supervisors in positions that were unthinkable three or four years ago. At first there was a lot of resentment and resistance by the staff members at Soledad, not the inmates, to my having such a position of authority. But before I left, they’d changed.”
Her background was in education.
“Anderson graduated from the University of Kansas in 1954 with a bachelor of science degree in secondary education. She received her master’s degree in 1955 from the same university in special education and a second master’s degree from the University of Southern California in public administration. She taught in the Kansas City school district and came to California when her husband, a career serviceman, was transferred to Riverside. She worked in the Riverside school district in special education with deaf children for six years,” according to the Champion.
“Anderson, a 43-year-old black woman on the Department of Corrections staff since 1963, said she wanted to make sure the California Institution for Women in Chino didn’t teach outmoded job skills,” reported the Progress Bulletin, March 20, 1976.
“We ought to start talking about programming women for jobs that allow them to feed their families rather than for low-paying jobs. I need to take a good look at my vocational program to see if we train people for the current job market,” she told the Bulletin. “I think we need to talk about training programs for jobs not traditionally seen for women — maintenance areas like electricians, plumbers, paint foremen.”
The 1970s were tumultuous for the state prison system but she is credited with helping keep violence away from CIW.
“Gang warfare hasn’t hit CIW,” declared the headline in the Chino Champion, Aug. 25, 1978.
“The lethal gang warfare taking place in men’s prisons in the state has not overflowed into the California Institution for Women here because of early steps taken by the superintendent, Kathleen Anderson. Anderson, who is in her third year as ‘warden,’ credits her experience as a staff coordinator dealing with inmate problems with providing her with the know-how to handle the potential of gangs in the women’s prison,” the newspaper reported.
“I declared CIW neutral ground,” she told the paper.
She also focused on clearly defining the roles and responsibilities for staff and inmates alike.
“The situation at CIW was chaotic when she arrived, Anderson said. She was the fifth superintendent in a year and a half. The prison had had its first major riot in 1975. Staff was shattered— they didn’t know their roles. The inmates were angry— they considered their role one of intimidating the staff, she said. School programs had collapsed, the buildings were dirty and the state assembly was launching a second hearing into conditions. Her first step was to take sections of the staff out for two to three days to discuss their roles. The discussions were held with the inmates, and a counseling program developed,” according to the paper.
She made efforts to expand rehabilitative programs for the inmates.
“The small Chaffey College program was enlarged and a bachelor’s degree program with La Verne University started. There are now 175 women in the college program,” the Champion reported.
She summed up her vision by saying the prison system needed to change from the inside.
“The Department of Corrections is my career and I’ll do the best I can,” she told the Champion in 1976. “I’ll know when my job is done and then I’ll move on. I see myself as an agent for change and I have proven that it can be done. I’m interested in what’s right and fair for people, that’s all. I’m no do-gooder. The inmates are my first concern and the staff has to be in tune with the inmate population. Change has to come from within.”
She served as warden until May 1980.
Anderson passed away July 7, 2017.