Abstract
Introduction
Women Offenders
Women Employees
Conclusion
References

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN IN
OKLAHOMA CORRECTIONS:
INMATES AND
EMPLOYEES

by

Philip D. Holley
Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Department of Social Sciences
100 Campus Drive
Weatherford, OK 73096
e-mail: holleyp@swosu.edu or pholley@telepath.com

&

Dennis Brewster
University of Oklahoma
Department of Sociology
Norman, OK 73019
e-mail: dbrews@charter.net

Submitted to
The Journal of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Research Consortium
April 9, 1998


A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN IN
OKLAHOMA CORRECTIONS:
INMATES AND
EMPLOYEES

ABSTRACT

The paper provides a brief history of women-both offenders and employees- within the adult criminal justice system in the State of Oklahoma. Using the periods of Statehood (1900-1909), the Traditional (1910-1979), and the Contemporary (1980 to the present), we examine the historical development of Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) facilities for women, incarceration data, and selected characteristics of these offenders.

The contribution of women employees to Oklahoma's early history of corrections is documented in the work of Kate Barnard, Mabel Bassett, and Clara Waters. Additional information is provided with regard to the role of women in the present era in leadership positions as well as correctional officers and case management staff. It is clear that women belong in corrections and that they provide valuable services and leadership.

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INTRODUCTION



The history of the unique and differential and inferior treatment of women inmates is chronicled elsewhere (Giallombardo, 1966; Dobash, Dobash, and Gutteridge, 1986; Pollock-Byrne, 1990; Burkhart, 1973; Price and Sokoloff, 1995; Muraskin and Alleman, 1993; Welch, 1996; Serna, 1992; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Women in prison, 1994, 1991).

Since the numbers of female offenders in Oklahoma have been small until recently, the most unique feature of these women is perhaps their invisibility. In the last few years attention has been directed toward the characteristics of women offenders and their needs, particularly as their numbers have increased and as the state has struggled to deal with overpopulation and related matters.

Compared to other states, Oklahoma is a relatively young state. Despite its youth, the state of Oklahoma is distinguished in several respects with regard to its correctional system in general and in specific the women within that system. Especially is this the case with regard to women who have served as leaders within the corrections field. While perhaps not widely recognized, the State of Oklahoma has distinguished itself through its inclusion of women in leadership as well as lower level positions.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief history of women within the adult criminal justice system of the State of Oklahoma. Specifically, the mission is two-fold. First, we seek to examine women inmates throughout the state's history. Second, we also will explore the role of women employees, consisting of administrators as well as lower level staff.

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WOMEN OFFENDERS



This section will review the history of women offenders (1) prior to and at Statehood, about 1900-1909, (2) the traditional period, roughly defined as the period from 1910-1979, and (3) the contemporary period, since 1980 within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) (using Connelly & Holley, 1993). Readers should refer to Marcus-Mendoza and Briody (1996), Brewster and Holley (1997), Holley and Brewster (1996, 1996a), Fletcher, Rolison, and Moon (1994) for additional information on recent Oklahoma female offenders.
 
 

Statehood



Limited information is available about this period. Sandhu (1991) indicated that women offenders were incarcerated at Leavenworth, Kansas, along with boys and male inmates during the territorial period. Apparently that number was small, since fewer than 10 were returned when Oklahoma inmates were brought back.

Connelly and Holley (1993) sampled 1002 cases from 1800 cases available for the years 1900-1909. Seventeen of the cases were females, which represents 1.6% of all cases (although these data were sequentially grouped within in the records and may not be representative of the population). Of these, "two were serving sentences for murder, three for manslaughter, one for robbery, one for burglary, two for forgery, and two for larceny" (p. 4). Significantly, "the remaining six had been convicted of adultery" (p.4).

Women were initially housed "...on the top floor of the administration section at Oklahoma State Penitentiary [OSP]" (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 1973 Annual report, p. 40). Apparently these accommodations were inadequate. According to Sandhu, "the first female ward at McAlester was built near the east gate around 1911" (1991, p. 5). The "1973 Annual Report" indicates this facility was a converted "rock warehouse" located "...one-half mile [sic] east of the main prison walls" (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, p. 40). This siting was consistent with the general practice throughout the US of including a women's unit within the male penitentiary complex. In 1912, this facility held 7 females (p. 40).
 
 

The Traditional Period



The first housing for women was replaced by a new structure completed in 1926/1927, which was located near OSP on the grounds of what is now Jackie E. Brannon Correctional Center (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 1973 Annual report, p. 40). Further, by the end of 1927, Oklahoma had 61 female inmates (Sandhu, 1991, p. 15). During 1931, 63 inmates were received into the system, while 65 were discharged. During 1935, 83 inmates were received and 88 were discharged (Oklahoma State Planning Board, State penal and corrective institutions in Oklahoma, pp. 122, 131).

By 1939, female inmates numbered 90 (Oklahoma Planning and Resources Board, A ten year plan for the state penal and correctional system in Oklahoma, p. 38). It is perhaps worthwhile to note that the State Industrial School for White Girls housed 225 in 1935, while the State Training School for Negro Girls held 41 (Oklahoma State Planning Board, State penal and corrective institutions in Oklahoma, p. 109). By 1949, there were 38 women (23 white and 15 black) incarcerated at the penitentiary (Sandhu, 1991, p, 22).

In 1971, "a building situated about a mile [to the west] from OSP...was converted into a second women's ward to alleviate a serious overcrowding problem" (p. 30). The Women's Ward I held 130 inmates during that year (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 1973 Annual report, p. 40). By FY 1973, the average daily female population was 132.5 for both Ward I and Ward II (p. 50). Further, during that year, 122 women were discharged and 104 were received (p. 60).

By 1973/1974, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center (MBCC), initially serving as a Community Treatment Center (CTC), was opened in Oklahoma City. Average daily population for FY 1978 was 125 for OSP, 76 for MBCC, and 25 for the Horace Mann CTC in Tulsa (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Annual report fiscal year 1978, no page number). By 1981, there 154 women in OSP and MBCC and 111 in the two CTC's--Horace Mann and Clara Waters in Oklahoma City (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Annual report FY '81, pp. 35, 44)

The women's unit at McAlester was closed in FY 1982 (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Annual report fiscal year 1982, p. 14). Construction had added beds to MBCC, so that at the end of FY 1982, the facility had a count of 155 (p. 26). The two CTC's accounted for 38 and 90 women, respectively (pp. 43, 45).

During the Traditional period (1910-1979), women represented 3.5% of the inmate population Connelly and Holley, 1993, p. 4a) . Connelly and Holley found that females were more likely that males to have shorter sentences and serve less time (p. 11a). Specifically, nearly 60% had a sentence less than 2 years, while approximately 5% received a sentence of over 10 years (p. 12a). Over 75 percent of woman served less than 2 years, while less than 2% served over 10 years (p. 12a).

Considering the decades 1910-1919 and 1970-1979 along with the intervening ones, significant trends are revealed. Over this time, women were less likely to received sentences of one year or less and more than 20 years, and more likely to receive sentences of 1-20 years (p. 12b). They were also less likely to serve one year or less and more than 10 years and more likely to serve between1 and 10 years (p. 12c).

Examining selected crimes, Connelly and Holley found nearly 70% of women received less than 2 years for a sentence for assault, with over 75% serving less than 2 years (p. 16b). Forty-five percent of males received a sentence of less than 2 years, and over 78% served less than 2 years (p. 16b).

When considering murder, 100% of women received a sentence of over 20 years, while 3% of males received a sentence less than 20 years (p. 17b). All of the women served a sentence of between 2 and 5 years, while two-thirds of males served between 2 and 5 years (p. 17b). Manslaughter convictions involved sentences of between 2 and 10 years for over 70% of the women (compared to 47% of men) and about the same percentages of women and men (63% and 60%, respectively) served that period of time (p. 18a).

When convicted of robbery, over 83% of women received a sentence between 2 and 10 years, compared to 53% of men (19b). About 60% of the women served a sentence of between 2 and 10 years compared to over 67 percent of the men (p. 19b). Over 60% of women receive a sentence of less than 2 years for burglary, while over 76% serve less than 2 years (p. 22b). For men, 45% receive such a sentence, yet 67% serve this sentence (p. 22b).

Considering larceny, 65% receive a sentence of less than 2 years, while over 75% serve less than 2 years, compared to 62% and 79%, respectively, for men (p. 23b). Motor vehicle theft-related offenses involved 77% of sentences for women less than 2 years compared to 60% of men (p. 24a). All the women served less than 2 years, compared to 80% of men (p. 24a).

The results of the Connelly and Holley research reveal that DUI offenses involve sentences of less than 2 years for all of the women, compared to 77% of men (p. 24c). Seventy-five percent of woman serve less than 2 years compared to 90% of the men (p. 24c).

In summary, this period is marked by expansion both in terms of facilities and correspondingly in population. Significantly, treatment of women was found to be different from men in that women received shorter sentences and served less time.

The Contemporary Period



From 1982, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center served as the multi-security level facility-including maximum security and death row--for women within ODOC (Sandhu, 1991, p. 45). While it has a legal capacity of 181, as a result of double celling, it is usually nearly twice that. It held 332 inmates as of June 30, 1997 (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Alphabetical listing of facilities with capacities, counts, location, and year opened). As facilities have opened, the population has correspondingly increased (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, End of fiscal year count since 1983).

The Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, opened in 1988 as a minimum security facility, had a population of 583 as of June 30, 1997. Opened in 1977, the Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center, held 157 women in 1997. Also opened in 1977, the Tulsa Community Corrections Center, held129 women. The Hollis Work Center, opened in 1993, held 37 women in 1997. Other woman are held while being processed at Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, while others are housed in contract facilities in Texas. In all facilities, there were slightly over 2000 female inmates in ODOC custody as of June 30, 1997 (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Inmate profile end of June 1997).

At the end of 1996, of all offenders incarcerated in Oklahoma, 9.9% were women (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 1996, 1997). Historically, woman have represented from 4-6 percent of the total population in state and federal institutions (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Historical correction statistics in the United States, 1850-1984).

Oklahoma's was the highest incarceration rate-115--of all the states at the end of 1996 (highest was the District of Columbia with 119) (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 1996, 1997). This is compared to Oklahoma's 1995 overall incarceration rate of 552, ranking significantly above the national rate of 427 and ranking 5th among the states (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Correctional populations in the United States, 1995). See Sandhu, Al-Mosleh, and Chown (1994) for a discussion of this phenomenon.

According to ODOC, female receptions as a percent of all receptions has increased from 7.9% in FY 1980 to 12.3% in FY 1990 to 17.7% in FY 1997 (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Female receptions as a percent of all receptions FY 80- FY 97). Receptions in 1997 include 52% drug offenses, 15.3% for fraud, and 10.7% for larceny (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Female receptions by crime type FY 93- FY 97).

Examining the Connelly and Holley findings for the contemporary period (the population consists of offenders released during 1980-1992), females represent 10.7% (N=4,002) of all inmates, a substantial increase over the traditional period (1993, p. 4a). Forty-one percent of women received sentences of less than 2 years, while 37% of men received such sentences (p.12a). Over 90% of women served less than 2 years compared to 83% of men (p. 12a). Compared to the traditional period, women and men were more likely to receive short sentences and less likely to receive longer sentences. Also, women and men were more likely to serve shorter sentences and less likely to serve longer sentences during the contemporary rather than the traditional period (p. 12a).

Selected offenses will now be examined. For assault, 51% of women received a sentence of less than 2 years, and 84% served less than 2 years (p. 16b). This is compared to 34% and 77%, respectively, for men (p. 16b).

Eighty-three percent of females received more than 20 years for murder, compared to 95% of males (p. 17b). All of the females served between 2 and 10 years compared to 75% for males (p. 17b). Manslaughter convictions involved sentences of between 2 and 10 years for 58% of women and 63 percent of men (p. 18a). Forty-eight percent of females served between 2 and 10 years compared to 55% of men (p. 18a).

When convicted of robbery, 63% of women received a sentence of 2 to 10 years, compared to 64% of men (p. 19b). Of women, 62% served sentences of between 2 and 10 years, while 61% of men served such sentences (p. 19b).

When convicted of burglary, 46% of women received a sentence of less than 2 years, compared to 38% for men (p. 22b). Eight-six percent of women served less than 2 years, compared to 83% for men (p. 22b).

For larceny, 46% of women received a sentence of less than 2 years, compared to 43% for men (p. 23b). Nearly 94% of women served less than 2 years while 91% of men served that time (p. 23b). Motor vehicle theft-related offenses involved sentences of less than 2 years for 35% of women and 43% of men (p. 24a). Time served for women was less than 2 years for all women and 89% of men (p. 24a).

For DUI offenses, 57% of women received sentences of less than 2 years compared to 50% of men (p. 24c). Ninety-nine percent of women and men served less than 2 years (p. 24c).

In summary, with additional facilities, the population during the past 2 decades has increased significantly, and there are no reasons to think this trend will subside. During the contemporary period, the sentences and time served for men and women have become more similar.

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WOMEN EMPLOYEES

This portion of the paper will deal with women as leaders in corrections in Oklahoma, considering those who were early reformers working within the system and in more recent times. Also, an overview of the contemporary scene with regard to the employment of women in Oklahoma corrections will be presented.

Women have worked in the correctional setting since it's inception. Until recently, many women have only been allowed to work in female institutions (Snarr, 1995), although history provides evidence of women's roles as reformers and workers in numerous instances. Many women have worked diligently to provide humane treatment to those who been convicted of crimes, and have been involved with many of the reform efforts that have taken place in the area of corrections. Oklahoma is no different in its use of women within the ODOC. Oklahoma has three outstanding examples of the work of women in prison in its history and many examples of current women working in the correctional setting.

Kate Barnard was one of the first women in the United States elected to a statewide office before women were allowed to vote. Kate Barnard was a very active social reformer and was the first Commissioner of the Oklahoma Charities and Corrections. Elected in 1907, she took a strong interest in the treatment of inmates, who at the time were being confined in Kansas since Oklahoma did not operate a prison at the time (Bryant, 1969).

One of the first duties Barnard undertook was to investigate the many complaints regarding inmate treatment in the Kansas system. Making a surprise visit to the Kansas system, she was alarmed to find many of Oklahoma's inmates were being treated in harsh and inhumane conditions. Upon her return to Oklahoma, Barnard requested that Oklahoma inmates be returned and confined here (Sandhu, 1991). With the help of then governor Haskell, Barnard was able to convince the legislature to appropriate monies for the construction of a penitentiary in the state (Bryant, 1969).

Moving some of the inmates back to Oklahoma and enlisting the inmates to build their own prison was the first task for Barnard. While these inmates were constructing the prison, Barnard also convinced the legislature to remove the rest of the Oklahoma inmates in the Kansas system and place them temporarily in the Federal Institution at Leavenworth, Kansas. Construction of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary was completed in 1911 and all Oklahoma inmates were finally returned to the state (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma corrections: Past and present).

Kate Barnard's second significant endeavor was the founding of the Oklahoma State Reformatory. In response to the reformatory movement in corrections (Allen and Simonsen, 1995), Barnard asked the legislature to establish a reformatory in order to meet the future demands for prison space, and provide a setting to train young, youthful offenders in moral standards and job skills necessary for the offender to become a productive citizen (Sandhu, 1991).

Barnard wanted the reformatory to work on the special needs of the young offenders coming to the system. Under her direction, the Oklahoma State Reformatory-located in Granite, Ok--began a series of educational and employment skills programs. Teaching offenders useful skills of the times such as farming, tanning, baking, and shoe repair (Sandhu, 1991).

Barnard continued her work as a reformer, not only in the area of Charities and Corrections, but also used her position to better those in need of mental health, and human services. Barnard held the position as head of the Charities for two terms and was replaced in 1914. During this time Barnard set the tone for future directors by her vigorous work and dedication to the Charities and Corrections Commission. Among her other accomplishments, Barnard recommended indeterminate sentencing for offenders in order to allow differing amounts of time for offenders to train and adjust to the community (Bryant, 1991).

Mabel Bassett became the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections in 1923 and continued the work begun by Kate Barnard. Mabel Bassett worked to maintain the Oklahoma State Reformatory as a reformatory, resisting political pressure to convert the reformatory to a maximum security facility (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center (MBCC), 1997).

Mabel Bassett also was instrumental in establishing a Pardon and Parole Board in Oklahoma (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center (MBCC), 1997) . Bassett believed inmates, much like Kate Barnard, needed to be rewarded for good and proper behavior displayed while incarcerated. Part of the pardon and parole process, Bassett also established the use of leave to allow inmates to leave prison on a temporary basis for legitimate family emergencies (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, 1997).

Clara Waters become the first female warden of an all male correctional facility in 1927 (Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma corrections history). Her appointment to the warden's position followed the death of her husband, Dr. George Waters who had been instrumental in the development of the educational and job training programs at the reformatory (Sandhu, 1991). Clara Waters was committed to those she was charged with incarcerating. This commitment to "her boys" was seen in many of the unique was of punishing offenders (Sandhu, 1991). For example, if an inmate persisted in acting in a childish manner, Clara would dress the young man in women's clothes and make him sit in the rotunda of reformatory for visitors to scoff and ridicule.

This style of punishment, encouraged by Waters, also was the demise of her tenure as warden. Discontent on the part of inmates' led to a large prison break from the reformatory. Several inmates escaped, but all were quickly returned to the reformatory. The backlash from the prison break was more than Waters could withstand, and Waters was fired two days after the prison escape (Sandhu, 1991).

In the more recent history of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections women have been instrumental in the development and success of the modernization of the department. One of the key factors allowing women to become involved in the male-dominated department was the "oil boom." During the oil boom of the 80's, men were lured into the lucrative oil business. Jobs were plentiful and paid a substantial wage-more than a state correctional position was able to pay. Since the male labor force was so tight, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections began using women in the correctional field, both as officers and in administrative positions. Another important factor was the rapid expansion of the department, with several new facilities-institutions and community treatment centers-opened and requiring staff, many of whom were women. This re-introduction into the correctional setting has allowed women to prove themselves in the field and open the doors to other women.

Today the department has many women who are intricately involved in the correctional setting. Women now occupy positions from Deputy Director of Community Corrections Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Probation and parole/community corrections) and Chief of Staff and Institutional Operations, to positions of Warden and Deputy Warden, to Administrative Assistants, to Correctional Officers and Unit Management Staff. While these women have the likes of Barnard, Bassett, and Waters to thank for the openness of the department, they are well qualified and contributing much to the development of department.

Women wardens, rising through departmental ranks, have served in high profile institutions, such as the William S. Key Correctional Center with its boot camp for males--the Regimented Inmate Discipline (RID) program, where two women have served as wardens since it was opened in 1989. In recent years, programs such as the Enid Learning Center, an educational program, and the Drug Offender Work Camp (see Holley and Brewster, 1997), a combination boot camp and drug treatment facility, have been developed and implemented by women of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Many of the department's Public Information Officers fill a valuable role in the education of the public to the departments workings, while female correctional officers and unit management staff are on the front lines of correctional work everyday. As of January 1, 1996, there were 1483 women (34% of the total work force) working in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Of those working on the front line as Correctional Officers, 295 of the 1,957 correctional officers were women, representing 15.1% of the workforce. Two-hundred nineteen women (7.4%) were assigned to work in all male institutions in the state, compared to only 0.05% of the male staff assigned to work in female institutions (Department of Corrections, Human resources statistics, 1997).

Women in the Probation and Parole division of the Department of Corrections made up almost 49% of the total work force in 1996. This is significant when considering that Probation and Parole supervise the majority of Department of Corrections inmates-60% of the department's population was assigned to Probation and Parole in December of 1997 (Department of Corrections, Human resources statistics, 1997).

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CONCLUSIONS

This paper has presented a brief overview of the history of Oklahoma corrections, from territorial days to Statehood, through Charities and Corrections, to the present-day correctional system. The evidence indicates that Oklahoma has been rather innovative in its utilization of women in the correctional setting. Women employees today are building on the contributions and successes of the early reformers-Barnard, Bassett, and Waters. It is clear from this history that women do belong in corrections.

The incidence of crime committed by women today, while not always considered significant by policy makers and criminologists in the past, requires a renewed and closer examination. While serving shorter sentences in the past, present trends for women indicate shifts in sentencing and time served.

There is still much we need to know with regard to women offenders.

Women offenders continue to confront many challenges during incarceration, especially pertaining to the effects of incarceration on their families and children.

Fundamentally, Oklahoma's high incarceration rate for women requires further examination. The result of leading this statistical category creates a unique obligation to focus on the special needs of women.

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REFERENCES



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Bryant, K.L., Jr. (1969). Kate Barnard, organized labor, and social justice in Oklahoma during the progressive era. Journal of Southern History, 35, 145-164.

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Sandhu, H.S., Al-Mosleh, H.S., and Chown, B. (1994, August). Why does Oklahoma have the highest female incarceration rate in the U.S.? A preliminary investigation. Journal of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Research Consortium. 1, 25-33.

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Welch, M. (1996). Corrections: A critical approach. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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