The incorporation of women into law enforcement agencies can be viewed as a major social change milestone. Notably, female officers were not deemed capable of undertaking general policing duties. Women started entering the police force in the United States during the Victorian Era and undertook such activities as matron duties and looking after female inmates’ moral and physical welfare. Over the years, their population has increased steadily and currently constitutes an estimated 12.6% of the entire law enforcement. Although this milestone was attained decades ago, women continue to face major structural and systemic challenges which impede their entry into the force.
Challenges Faced by Women in Law Enforcement
Among the main challenges that women faced initially were institutionalized bias and discrimination. They struggled to try to gain acceptance and surmount the systemic entry barriers, hostile and adverse work environments, and subtle and explicit harassment. Sexism, double standards, skewed physical fitness evaluations, and the challenge of balancing work and domestic responsibilities are major problems that women continue to face today. Some of these hindrances are structural and institutionalized impediments, such as the system of recruitment, training, retention, and the predominantly masculine design for uniforms and equipment.
Challenges Faced by Women in Correctional Facilities
Women in correctional facilities face a wider array of critical problems than their male counterparts, most of which are unfulfilled in the prison environment. For instance, they face disparate disciplinary practices, sexual abuse, and higher risks of substance abuse and depression. Separation from children and spouses compounds these challenges, and the absence of gender-specific treatment options exacerbates the problems. Moreover, the inability to escape the perpetrator of sexual abuse, nonexistent or ineffective grievance and investigative procedure, absent employee accountability, and the general lack of public concern are major challenges in women’s correctional facilities.
Advantages Women Have in the Roles of Police, Correctional, and Probation or Parole Officer
Women working in law enforcement agencies have various distinct advantages over their male counterparts. Among such benefits is their relatively calm temperament, leading to less use of excessive force or weapons and the effective handling of a violent or hostile suspect. Additionally, they face fewer sustained allegations and citizen complaints of abuse of authority, costing their jurisdiction less in civil suit settlements. Brooks notes that only an estimated 11% of women officers reported using their firearms while on duty. This implies that female police officers enhance the possibility of less violent law enforcement.