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USA: should women work in men’s prisons? These women say yes

Since the 1970s, when women began gaining greater access to jobs within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the number of women employed by the agency has risen to more than 10,000 — a third of its total work force — in its 122 prisons.

But in some prisons, this vanguard of female employees has suffered an onslaught of abuse and harassment from inmates and male guards. Female prison employees have also encountered criticism from a sometimes unsympathetic public who believe the work is too dangerous for women and urge them to leave the field.

On Sunday, a front-page article in The Times uncovered how female prison workers frequently face retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, while the male co-workers or inmates who harassed them often go unpunished.

Many readers in the comments section dismissed the women’s complaints too, arguing that female workers don’t belong.

In response, current and former female prison employees answered their critics. They explained what it’s like to be a woman working in a men’s prison and what has motivated them to overcome hardships and stay.

Here is a selection of their comments, which have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

A family to provide for

I worked as a librarian in a state prison for men where there were many women correctional officers. I interacted with lots of inmates every day. The Department of Corrections in the state where I worked made it absolutely clear that inappropriate behavior by inmates or staff would not be tolerated.

I have heard that conditions in federal prisons are bad, and this is entirely the fault of the federal prison administration. The Federal Bureau of Prisons needs major reforms, and the country needs an attorney general who will take this problem seriously.

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