CDCR Time Capsule

1987: Department publication highlights need for females in corrections

A female correctional sergeant and female cadets.
Sgt. Irma Nava was one of the first women to work in the Transportation Unit. At right are female cadets at the R.A. McGee Correctional Training Center.

(Editor’s note: The following story was published in Correction News, April 1987, volume 1, number 2.)

Females working in corrections was fundamental department shift

By Sally A. Knornschild

When Daniel J. McCarthy first became a correctional officer in 1949, the California Department of Corrections prohibited women from working inside a prison. In fact, women weren’t even allowed to tour prisons. As late as 1967, the institutions were requesting “male only” lists for clerical positions on up.

Although the Women Correctional Supervisor classification was equivalent to Correctional Officer, females were required to meet more qualifications than their male counterparts. The promotional opportunities for women were also limited because there were only two places to promote: California Institution for Women and the Women’s Unit at California Rehabilitation Center.

Eventually, CDC saw the competency of these pioneering females and increased their opportunities for upward mobility. By 1971, women were working in almost every classification at the institutions.

Department Director: ‘Anything is available to any employee, regardless of gender’

During recent interviews, Director McCarthy and Chief Deputy Director Jim Gomez expressed mutual philosophies and concerns regarding females in corrections.

Two people sit at a table, one is writing.
Sally Knorschild interviews department Director Daniel J. McCarthy.

“CDC’s philosophy has already been shown,” said McCarthy. “The last director, Ruth Rushen, was a female. Consequently, I feel anything is available to any employee, regardless of their gender, if they have the proper motivation, background experience and education.”

Gomez agreed that females have made a significant contribution to the department.

“CDC has a responsibility to provide opportunities to all the populations we deal with. I think that Central Office has been very successful in hiring women and the provision of management jobs. We have quite a few high level women managers in the department, so I think we are beginning to have an impact,” Gomez said. “But the areas that need more attention are the institutions and parole regions.”

The department’s leaders feel very strongly that the majority of the promotions at the institutions must come from within the ranks. Promotional opportunities are offered to those who have performed a wide range of duties with a custody emphasis. It’s a logical sequence.

Recruiting more women

To attain the ability to have women represented throughout the promotional ladder at all institutions, CDC has targeted recruitment efforts toward females.

“Women make up nearly half the workforce. We need to make sure they’re half the workforce in corrections. Any ideas or solutions to increase female representation will be well received,” according to McCarthy.

The director and chief deputy director agree there are pockets of resistance toward females in corrections.

“I just won’t tolerate it,” McCarthy emphatically said. “If it comes to my attention, I will take serious steps to eliminate it.”

We have come a long way in the last 20 years. However, we need to continue working toward addressing the issues of representation and retention at all levels of the organization.

Read more from CDCR’s Time Capsule series or learn more about Women’s History Month.