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Women in corrections: An integral asset for all units

The ability of women to communicate and empathize are critical skills within the criminal justice system

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The ability of women to effectively communicate can reduce the possibility of use-of-force incidents.


Throughout my tenure in corrections and higher education, I am often approached by women who ask: “Can I make a positive impact in such a male-dominated field?”

That question is typically followed by many others, all to which my answer is a solid “Yes!”

Yes, you can be more physically fit than your male counterparts and manage your own situations.

Yes, you can be a part, if not in charge, of tactical units.

Yes, you can promote through the ranks with your knowledge, wits and ethics.

Yes, in a field that is male-dominated not only in regard to fellow employees but also offenders, women can and do make a positive impact daily.

The power of empathy

The advice I give to these women comes from my personal experiences and the experiences of fierce women I have been fortunate enough to work with along the way; their stories and experiences prove that women belong in law enforcement. In fact, women are needed in law enforcement.

I say women are needed because I believe women balance out the system. Women approach situations differently than men and often have better communication skills. Women are typically nurturers, which enables them to empathize more. This ability to empathize is essential in various areas within the criminal justice system, including corrections.

Empathizing is very different from sympathizing. The latter will often get an individual fired. The former, on the other hand, has been known to prevent many situations from becoming volatile. It is important for criminal justice professionals, especially those working in correctional facilities, to empathize with the offender’s current situation. This reminds staff, as well as offenders, that the goal is rehabilitation.

Remember, over 90% of people who are incarcerated will eventually be back in our communities. For that remaining 10%, the ones who have committed heinous crimes and simply do not belong back in society, it is still our job to keep them in a safe, secure and humane environment. To do that, facilities need staff who can empathize, keep their personal feelings at bay, remain ethical, and follow their moral compass.

The power of communication

The ability of women to effectively communicate can reduce the possibility of use-of-force incidents, as well as provide a sense of calm within facilities.

Women also have excellent active listening skills, which are extremely important in various leadership roles within corrections. Women are mentally and physically tough; they are prepared to go above and beyond in every situation because they want to continually prove that they belong and that this field is stronger with them.

When you are working with a female officer, remember that she is more than capable to run a unit, converse with an offender, supervise an incident, lead a cell extraction team, deploy OC, handcuff an offender and quell a disturbance. Trust her to do her job and to do it extremely well. And remember, regardless of gender or how confident an officer is in their ability to handle any situation, you must continue to have each other’s back. It is your job to ensure your partner goes home when your shift is over.

So, my advice to all the women out there who want to work in corrections, but have been told “it’s too dangerous for a girl,” is:

  • Keep moving forward; do not let anyone tell you that this field is too dangerous.
  • Use your nurturing power to its greatest ability.
  • Hone your communication skills.
  • Practice your active listening skills.
  • Stay in shape and do things that challenge you mentally, physically and emotionally.
  • Be true to who YOU are; everyone else is taken.
  • Preach the words: fair, firm and consistent.
  • Remember, justice needs to be served equally regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
  • Do not be afraid to speak up during a situation, especially if it can save lives.
  • Be a leader regardless of your job title; you will make a difference.

Jenna Curren, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in criminal justice studies. As chair of a CJ advisory board, Jenna actively partners with members of the community to integrate current students into internships and prospective law enforcement careers. Prior to working in academics, Jenna held various custody and treatment positions and was a lieutenant for the Connecticut Department of Correction. Throughout her tenure, she supervised men, women, youth and mental health offenders. A C.E.R.T and honor guard member, as well as a training officer, Jenna has 10 years of experience in the criminal justice and human services fields.