March is Women’s History Month, when we celebrate and reflect on the many contributions of women to American history. For us, it is a time to honor the women in our department, past and present, and acknowledge the ceilings that have been broken. We forge the way for the future generation of women colleagues and leaders, who embody the diversity we value so much in CDCR.
Women have served in many roles throughout our history, but until 50 years ago, they were not even allowed to serve as Correctional Peace Officers. Today, we employ more than 14,000 women. More than 5,000 are in custody roles.
Women in CDCR currently serve in leadership roles such as Undersecretary, Assistant Secretary, Director, Deputy Director, Warden, Chief and many more. Women are represented in every classification and I could not be more proud to count myself among them.
I am very proud to serve as the first woman Secretary of CDCR, and to be one of only 16 women leading state corrections departments in our country. I have had incredible mentors who helped pave the way, two in particular who had a great impact both professionally and personally.
Cheryl Pliler, who retired as Chief Deputy Director, which in today’s CDCR’s structure would be equivalent to Undersecretary, and Kathy Mendoza-Powers, retired Warden at Avenal State Prison.
Women’s history in CDCR
This department has a rich history of female role models, including:
- Dolly Taylor, the first woman to serve as a Correctional Officer in the 1970s
- Ruth Rushen, the first woman and African-American to serve as Director of the Department
- Jeanne Woodford, the first female Warden of San Quentin and later CDCR Director.
There are countless more.
Perhaps the most important role women play in our department is that of mentors. I know I would not be where I am today without the leadership, guidance, and support of many colleagues. Even though they had no obligation to take time for me, they made it a point to share their experience and wisdom, and I am so grateful for their presence in my life. I was taught the value of strength, integrity, professionalism and accountability. These are values I continue to carry throughout my career and life.
I am also proud to work alongside some of the best women I know, personally and professionally, and to see how far we have come since I began my CDCR career 35 years ago. I am sure you all have heard the saying, “behind every great man is a great woman.” The same is true for every woman. The support systems we have in our fathers, brothers, husbands, friends and colleagues make us who we are. To each of you I say, thank you!
Every day, the women of CDCR and CCHCS defy stereotypes and break down barriers for those who will serve after them. They bring perspectives and life experiences that are needed in our various jobs. Please remember that we are all role models to many, regardless of our jobs. Let us continue to create pathways to support each other, and make sure we leave the door of opportunity open for the next generation of leaders.
Kathleen Allison, Secretary
Learn more about California prison history.