Women account for 49 percent of correctional officers and supervisors in the Philadelphia prison system, guarding more than 9,000 inmates who are 90 percent male, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. In contrast, just 11 percent of city correctional officers were women in 1985. That was the last year that Philadelphia prison officials hired women to guard only female inmates. A Justice Department consent decree issued required the city to start allowing women to compete for the same jobs, and work in the same facilities, as men. The only concession to gender is a rule that inmate strip searches be conducted by guards of the same sex.
For many women, the job represents stability and good benefits. Women must endure challenges, including harassment from male colleagues who sometimes doubt their ability to handle the job. Then there are the male inmates. “They see the women as easy prey. They will flatter you, they’ll listen to everything you say and use it against you,” said Patricia Powers, a deputy warden, who noted that at 5-feet-4 and 120 pounds, she poses little physical threat to most of the inmates. Still, “people have found over the years that women in a male prison have profoundly had a calming effect,” said Tom Beauclair of the National Institute of Corrections, a Justice Department agency. “Men act differently when women are around, it’s just a fact of life.”