Women’s History Month: Representation in Corrections

Officer at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Women have historically been underrepresented in law enforcement careers. The Washington State Department of Corrections’ communications team recently did an analysis of how many of its employees are women (39.5%) and interviewed two women who have worked in corrections for more than 20 years about the challenges they’ve faced on the job and advantages women can bring to law enforcement careers.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Washington State Department of Corrections’ website.

By Rachel Friederich (email)

DOC Communications

March is Women’s History Month. Since 1995, United States presidents have issued annual proclamations for this month, to celebrate contributions women have made in American history and recognizing their achievements.

Women have had an important impact in shaping Washington state’s correctional system, even though the field of corrections is a heavily male-dominated career field.

Statistics

A total of 346,000 people in America worked as correctional officers in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 31.7% of those jobs were held by women. And only 27.7% of about 5,100 first line supervisors of correctional officers in the US were held by women.

By comparison, the Washington State Department of Corrections employs 4,471 corrections and community corrections officers. Of those, 23.1% are female. As of Feb. 15, 2021, the Department of Corrections employed 683 people who were supervisors of correctional officers (this includes officers not working in prison settings). Of those, 152 (22.2%) were female.

Agency-wide, women make up 39.5% of Washington Corrections employees.

Women’s Historical Influence on Washington Corrections

One woman whose influence is widely-known in Washington Corrections was Edna Lucille Goodrich. Goodrich began her career as a teacher and became was the first superintendent of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. Goodrich was recognized as a national leader in corrections. The Department of Corrections’ Headquarters building in Tumwater is named after her.

The agency also continues to be a leader for gender-responsive programming for incarcerated women. It’s one of only 12 correctional systems in the country with a residential parenting program (pdf). The agency incorporates gender-response protocols in every aspect of its correctional practices, from intake to shaping its programs around substance abuse and mental health treatment. And last year, its community corrections division launched virtual gender-responsive health and wellness reentry courses for work release residents.

Challenges Women Face

Women can face many challenges in the field of corrections, according to a 2017 report by the Management Training Corporation, Women Professionals in Corrections: A Growing Asset (pdf). The report said even after achieving a position in senior leadership, women reported feeling like they have to perform at a higher level than male peers to be viewed as successful.

Despite the challenge’s women face, the report pointed to ways managers can support women and change work culture to support a more diverse workforce, such as training on equity and inclusion. It also said that having more women in leadership roles and having mentoring programs in place, will help make corrections a more inclusive work environment.

“The enlightenment of female leaders within the corrections environment and how male staff are coached and encouraged, with respect to women in their workforce, can lead to changes in attitude, thinking processes and behaviors,” according to the report. “Creating an environment where it is acceptable to be different, speak your mind and to have your opinions listened to is a tremendous step forward in some organizations management philosophy and organizational culture. Many corrections professionals acknowledge that there are strong people out there, both men and women, who are going to succeed regardless of the circumstances. However, in the corrections environment, with the attributes that women bring, specifically collaboration, communication, and empathy, women have not been traditionally valued.”

The Interviews

To celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the valuable skills women bring to the Washington State Department of Corrections, DOC Communications interviewed a correctional captain and a community corrections supervisor about overcoming gender disparities and lessons learned as they progressed throughout their careers.

Name: Arminda Miller

Current Job and Facility/Worksite: Correctional Captain at Washington Corrections Center, Currently Deployed to Department’s Emergency Operations Center serving as a liaison officer

Employed with DOC Since: 1998

Name: Stacy Fitzgerald

Employed with DOC Since: 1999

Current Job and Facility/Worksite: Community Corrections Supervisor, Ratcliff House Work Release

Employed With DOC Since: 1998

What positions or special teams have you had or served on in Washington State Department of Corrections?

Arminda Miller: Correctional Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Training and Development Instructor and Writer. Special Teams 1999-Current. (Emergency Response Team, Critical Incident Stress Management, Honor Guard, Department Incident Management Team. Not all at the same time but on a team for the entire duration)

Stacy Fitzgerald: Fugitive Warrants Unit (interned), Community Corrections Officer, Risk Management Specialist, Work/Training Release Supervisor

What made you choose corrections as a career?

Arminda Miller: I wanted to work in a field that allowed many options to help others and learn throughout the career. The Washington State Department of Corrections offers different opportunities on a regular basis.

Stacy Fitzgerald: Looking back I realize I became interested in human behavior when I was young. I wondered why people would continue to make decisions that would continuously get themselves into trouble or why people would choose not to tell the truth over and over again.

When I got older, I thought I wanted to become a police officer until I was in college. One of my professors was a retired probation officer with the Department of Corrections. I was near graduation and needed an internship, so he was able to assist me in securing an internship with the DOC fugitive warrants unit. Working in this capacity, I learned the roles correctional staff play in community corrections, which are law enforcement and social worker.

I realized I could learn more about an individual’s behavior in community corrections than any other field because a community corrections officer gets to know the person’s behavior that sent them to jail/prison, and who they are when released.

I stayed in the field because over the years I learned the deeper reasoning behind poor decision-making turned criminal behavior and how so many environmental factors play a role in one’s life. It wasn’t until I was 10 years into my career and working at an all-female Work Release that I became passionate about incarcerated women’s issues and the importance of gender response in the correctional setting.

Have you encountered any gender-based micro-aggressions or discriminations in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Arminda Miller: Sure I have. I don’t much have an issue confronting these things as they arise and confronting them doesn’t have to be confrontational. Ignoring these things typically doesn’t result in them stopping.

Stacy Fitzgerald: Yes, but I’ve never let it define me or my path. I’ve been fortunate in that, for the most part I’ve been surrounded by great co-workers throughout my career.

What do you enjoy most about working in corrections?

Arminda Miller: There is always something to do and its meaningful work. There are also a lot of really great people who work in this agency. This work is never boring to me.

Stacy Fitzgerald: I enjoy working with the women because I know they need strong supporters for their rights and needs. I’m proud to work in the Reentry Division at a work release that teaches women how to be prosocial individuals in the community.

I’ve always enjoyed this work. Right now though, I also really enjoy the people I work with; the team work and comradery, that comes with the job we do. We are all in it for the same reasons and that is to help these women be successful in the community.

What advice do you have for women who may be interested in a career in corrections?

Arminda Miller: Focus your energy around your work performance, this will garner credibility and respect. One may be able to charm themselves into a place but that falls short in time, it’s the performance that keeps them there or causes them to be invited back.

Stacy Fitzgerald: I encourage women to follow a career path in corrections. There are many opportunities depending on one’s interest. Corrections needs women who have healthy boundaries, capable of empathy, understand punishment and more importantly behavior. I have found DOC to be a very equal opportunity employer which is great for females interested in a correctional career.

Corrections, as is with many law enforcement fields, have historically been male dominated industries. What advantages do women bring to corrections?

Arminda Miller: Without being overly gender specific, healthy interactions for some of the people who we are responsible for are needed. We get an opportunity to display what that looks like and potentially allow others to see that healthy relationships include boundaries. Someone once shared with me that we have an opportunity to shape our neighbors, as most incarcerated will release, what kind of neighbor are you trying to shape?

Stacy Fitzgerald: Women tend to bring different viewpoints to corrections. Diversity is important anywhere, but particularly in corrections because in corrections it’s important to keep an open mind no matter what your role is or who you are working with, whether they’re male, female, or LGBTQ+.

Commentary: Celebrating Women’s History Month

by Rachel Friederich, ICSEW Communications Chair

ICSEW members standing at the Washington State Capitol in 2019

March is Women’s History Month.  Since 1995, US presidents have issued annual proclamations for this month, to celebrate contributions women have made in American history and recognize their achievements.

As tumultuous as the past year has been, women—in state and national government have made history.

Nationally, we saw the first woman of color become vice president– the second-highest government office in the land.

In Washington state, our Supreme Court became one of the most diverse in the nation, with the appointments of Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis as first Native woman and Helen Whitener was the first Black woman to sit on the state’s highest court. Women have more representation in our legislature. T’wina Nobles was the first Black senator elected in Washington for more than a decade—and only the second black woman to serve in the chamber. The House also gained three new Black women: Jamila Taylor, April Berd and Kirsten Harris-Talley. (Read about them on CrossCut.) Voters also chose Marilyn Strickland as its first Black member of Congress. In another first, Laurie Jinkins became the state’s first woman and out lesbian Speaker of the House.

ICSEW Making History

The Interagency Committee of State Employed Women has made history, too. This March has marked one year since we began holding our meetings and events exclusively online. We’ve stepped up to master tools like Zoom and Facebook Live. Many of us learned new skills outside of our comfort zones. We will continue our virtual interactions with our membership—at least for the immediate future.

Though conducting business online threw us a learning curve, we’ve adapted. And the virtual world has a silver lining. Since we’ve started streaming our meetings and archiving our videos, they’ve gotten thousands of views—way more than any number of people who have attended our meetings in person. It’s given state employees who don’t work in the greater Olympia area—and may not have had the opportunity engage with ICSEW—access they likely never had before. No other time in our 58-year history has attending our meetings been so easy.

Even when we eventually start meeting again face-to-face, we will continue streaming our meetings and many of our trainings online.

ICSEW also launched its first-ever mentorship pilot program for ICSEW representatives. The pilot had about 40 participants from various state agencies. The project is coming to a close, but we’re actively working with partners and taking steps to make the pilot available for all state employees. We’ll be providing updates on our progress at future meetings and on our blog.

Making My Own History

Women’s History Month is also important to me.  As a daughter of Filipino immigrants, there were lots of things my mother wasn’t allowed to do after arriving to the US after escaping a country that was on the verge of martial law in the early 1970s.

I am the first woman in my family to have certain rights and opportunities that my mother didn’t have. (Read: Nine things Women Couldn’t Do in 1971)

When my mother immigrated to the US, women weren’t allowed to keep their maiden names after marriage. (This did not occur until 1976). Women weren’t allowed to have their own bank accounts (This also did not occur until 1976.) In the early 70s women couldn’t get credit cards in their own names nor serve on a jury or attend an Ivy League school.

I couldn’t afford to attend an Ivy League, but I did attend a state college and was the first person in my family to graduate from a university and go on to a professional career.

Though we’ve made a lot of progress in achieving gender equality, we’re not there yet. Women are still underrepresented many lines of work, but especially in STEM fields and law enforcement. Men still outnumber women in Congress and there are still elected officials trying to legislate women’s rights to their own bodies.

There’s still a lack of women in senior leadership positions in the business world.  And in our nation’s 200+ year history, we have yet to close the gender wage gap.  The Center for American Progress lists the US gender wage gap at 82 percent (meaning women earned 82 cents to every $1 their male counterparts earn, as of 2019). However, in our state, the gender wage gap has actually widened. Recent numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by KING 5 shows that women in our state earned 81 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned in 2014, but the number fell to 75.4 by 2019.

One of the reasons I decided to join ICSEW was for the opportunity for leadership, personal and career development trainings and to be around other strong, female professionals who were very few and far between when I was growing up. It’s given me the confidence to talk to supervisors about opportunities to advance in my career. (something I had never been taught to do) The trainings ICSEW offers have taught me to spot systemic issues that play into gender inequalities, like implicit biases and micro-aggressions. And how to advocate to put a stop these issues.

Resources

As we ease into Women’s History Month, I invite you take a look at some resources about Women’s History in the State of Washington and civic involvement.

  • Washington State Historical Society’s page on the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement. Though the centennial was last year, and all of its in-person events were cancelled, the site has virtual exhibitions, curricula, and links to videos.
  • Washington State Women’s Commission: Its mission is to improve the life of every woman by ensuring equitable opportunities and removing systemic barriers through engagement, advocacy, public policy, while being inclusive of diverse populations. The organization has many events, and which can be attend virtually on women’s issues.
  • ICSEW’s About page gives a brief history of how the ICSEW evolved from a response to President Kennedy’s National Commission on the status of Women and its work we continue today.

I’d also invite you to attend our next meeting on March 16 to learn about what ICSEW does and to be a part of our mission of bettering the lives of all state employees through advocacy, outreach and opportunity, by advising the Governor on issues that impact state employed women. I emphasize all state employees, because issue that impact the ability of women to thrive in the workplace, will impact everyone’s ability to thrive.

It’s certainly impacted mine.

Karen Johnson Named Director of State Equity Office

Dr. Karen Johnson
Dr. Karen Johnson
OLYMPIA–Gov. Jay Inslee this week named Karen A. Johnson, PhD, director of the newly created state Office of Equity. The Office of Equity, established by the Legislature, was signed into law by Inslee in April of 2020. The office will work with agencies to increase access to equitable opportunities in order to bridge opportunity gaps and reduce disparities. The office will also work with communities to develop the state’s five-year equity plan.Johnson is currently the equity and inclusion administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC), where she works to incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion and respect (EDI-R) into DOC policy and practices. She also represents DOC on the statewide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

Johnson’s career includes working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, serving in roles ranging from regional equal employment opportunity (EEO) program manager to chief administrative officer of the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center. She then served as the director for Tri-Love Ministries in Seattle, working to ensure equitable access to resources and services for Black children and their families in King County before transitioning to local and state government work.

“Karen brings extensive experience working to transform local and state government systems to more equitably serve Washingtonians,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “She has oriented her entire career around helping disadvantaged communities and instituting lasting systemic and institutional change for generations to come. I have every confidence that she will be an excellent, effective director. I am looking forward to working with her collaboratively to ensure that our state is one that supports all Washingtonians. The Office of Equity is an exciting opportunity to reframe how state government works.”

“Governor Inslee has boldly announced Washington’s historic commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism and I am excited to join his team at this time,” Johnson said. “We will work to develop a new state culture that centers equity in all of its work and provides all Washingtonians with an opportunity to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“The Office of Equity Task Force benefitted tremendously from the great experience and strong moral force that Dr. Johnson brought to the table,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, who sponsored the Senate companion to the legislation creating the Office of Equity. “As director of the Office of Equity, she will be a strong and inspirational champion for creating a future that we want our children to live in.”

“After several years of community conversations and traveling across every corner of this beautiful state, I am so pleased that the Washington state Office of Equity will open with its new director, Dr. Karen Johnson,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson, prime sponsor of HB 1783. “The Office of Equity will increase access to state services and programs while also improving outcomes and opportunities for all Washingtonians. I am truly grateful for the people who stewarded this process and the thoughtfulness that has been taken in every part of this journey. It takes all of us to create a livelihood where everyone can fully participate and thrive with dignity. I am hopeful that this significant step forward will get us closer to realizing a healthier and prosperous Washington.”

“This is a giant leap forward and shows that Washington state is moving full steam ahead in how we address inclusion by dismantling racism,” said Rep. Melanie Morgan, who sat on the Office of Equity Task Force. “This isn’t just lip service; this is going to bring positive change throughout the state. I am overjoyed and proud to see the Office of Equity become a reality and appreciate the governor making all Washington residents a priority. Disparities in Black/African American, Native/Indigenous and communities of color exist. The Office of Equity shows we are serious about diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Johnson has served as adjunct faculty at The Evergreen State College, teaching courses in dismantling racism and identifying bias in public service settings for the master of public administration program.

She holds both a PhD and Master of Public Administration from Old Dominion University, and earned her bachelor of science from Utica College of Syracuse University. She has also earned a Certified Diversity Executive certification.

The appointment is effective March 8.