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Men Can Be Prevented From Guarding Female Prisoners, Court Rules

WA State Dept. of Corrections

A federal court said it’s OK for Washington state to require that only women be allowed to guard female prisoners in certain situations. Male correctional officers had sued the state saying denying them access to those jobs was a violation of their civil rights.

This story began back in 2007 when women prisoners at Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor and Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair sued the Washington Department of Corrections alleging a pattern of sexual abuse by male correctional officers. 

At the time, men supervised women prisoners in housing areas and performed the pat downs and strip searches of the inmates. The suit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia. The lawsuitm called  Jane Doe v. Clarke, was brought by Columbia Legal Services on behalf of  a class of female prisoners.

After a series of court battles, the women prisoners reached a settlement with the state resulting in a shift in prison policy in Washington. Only women would be hired to oversee female prisoners in housing units and where invasive body searches were required.

At that point, male correctional employees, represented by Teamsters Local Union No. 117 sued, arguing they should not be denied access to those jobs.

In an opinion released Friday, June 12, the United States Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit sided with Washington state, finding that gender was a bona-fide qualification for the corrections jobs.

The court said  that the Department of Corrections was right to conclude that rampant abuse should not be an accepted part of prison life and the state needed to take steps to protect the female inmates.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.