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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Breaking into jail : women working in a men's jail Cadwaladr, Margaret I.


The study intends to present a detailed picture of what it is like to be a woman working as a guard in a "men's" jail. In-depth interviews with 21 female guards, 6 managers and 17 women working in jobs usually held by women in a jail (nurses, clerks, librarians) were used to explore the experiences of women in choosing to become jail guards and the consequences of being a woman in the men's world of the jail. Whenever possible, the actual words of the participants are included in the text. The dominant idea which organizes the research is that female guards in a men's jail find themselves in a confusing position. On the one hand, to be female is to be different, to be an outsider. On the other hand, female guards have much in common with, and are sympathetic to, their male peers. This research finds that female guards apply for, and accept, the job for financial reasons. Guards express feelings of frustration with management, boredom and isolation. Female guards see themselves as competent, but having a less aggressive manner of carrying out their duties than some of their male peers. Yet they receive unsolicited and unwanted paternalistic protection which serves to reinforce women's differences and devaluation in the organization. Female guards experience both personal and sexual harassment. These problems are compounded by jail culture, by the comradeship of male and female officers and by the token status of women. Harassment becomes normalized and accepted by both men and women. Three patterns emerge which describe how female guards cope with the challenges and frustrations of their jobs. First, they have much in common with their male peers and are accepted to a greater or lesser degree in the workplace. Second, they tolerate difficulties, including personal and sexual harassment, in part because the benefits of complaining are outweighed by the costs. Finally, some female guards withdraw from the workplace in one way or another: they avoid superfluous contact with fellow-workers, go on stress leave, become apathetic or quit.

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