The death of Washington state corrections officer Jayme Biendl on Jan. 29 has raised debate about the vulnerability of women working among male inmates, says the Seattle Times. Having a lone, slight woman doing hands-on work behind bars might seem like a jarring risk, but in the 35 years since women broke into the ranks at Washington’s male prisons, gender has become mostly an afterthought inside.
Of the 3,708 officers in the state’s prisons, 592 — 15 percent — are women. They have filled every job, from officer to superintendent. Several female officers said they don’t feel targeted by inmates because of their gender. Female corrections officers once were excluded for their lack of size and strength. Female officers are hurt less often than men. They are seen as better communicators, often defusing machismo tension before it erupts. Biendl’s death was the first of an officer in 32 years. Last year, Department of Corrections officers spent 8,900 days — more than 24 years in total — on paid disability leave because of assaults or on-the-job physical injury. Officer Keri Towle, a slim, blond 26-year-old with the walk and demeanor of an ex-jock, has not suffered an injury since being hired three years ago.