Being Assigned Work in Prison: Do Gender and Race Matter

With a majority of inmates being assigned some type of work while incarcerated, work assignments are a staple of U.S. prisons. These work assignments are likely to impact not only prisoner behavior while in prison, but also may impact their ability
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  Feminist Criminology 1  –23© The Author(s) 2016Reprints and DOI: 10.1177/  Article Being Assigned Work in Prison: Do Gender and Race Matter? Courtney A. Crittenden 1 , Barbara A. Koons-Witt 2 , and Robert J. Kaminski 2 Abstract With a majority of inmates being assigned some type of work while incarcerated, work assignments are a staple of U.S. prisons. These work assignments are likely to impact not only prisoner behavior while in prison, but also may impact their ability to obtain gainful employment after prison. Historically, it has been noted that work in prison has been influenced by gender and racial norms and stereotypes. These stereotypical assignments may not be beneficial for inmates, especially in a time when work assignments are increasingly providing the only work skills inmates may receive while incarcerated. Using a nationwide data set of prisoners incarcerated facilities, the current study uses multilevel modeling to examine the nature of work assignments for male and female state prisoners and whether these assignments are based on gender and/or racial stereotypes. Results indicate that there are indeed lingering stereotypes influencing work assignments for men and women in U.S. prisons. Keywords female inmates, institutional corrections, intersections of race/class/gender, prison programs, survey research Introduction Work assignments are highly common across U.S. prisons with over one half of inmates being assigned some type of work during their incarceration (Stephan, 2008). First introduced in penitentiaries as a way to keep inmates busy based on the premise 1 The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA 2 University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA Corresponding Author: Courtney A. Crittenden, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 615 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37403, USA. Email: FCX XX   X   10.1177/1557085116668990Feminist Criminology Crittenden etal. research-article   2016  at UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA on September 14, 2016fcx.sagepub.comDownloaded from   2  Feminist Criminology that “idle hands are the devil’s playground,” this idea still holds true today. Idleness among inmates has been claimed to be destructive to rehabilitation (Batchelder & Pippert, 2002), and it is believed that when inmates are kept busy the amount of mis-conduct problems in an institution will decline (Roberts, 1997). Additionally, when inmates are busy, the stress among staff within a facility tends to decrease (Batchelder & Pippert, 2002). Work helps offset the expenses of running prisons because inmates can complete many of the tasks needed to help with prison operations and can help lower maintenance costs as well (Batchelder & Pippert, 2002; Flanagan, 1989;  National Institute of Corrections, 1992). Work might also provide viable work skills for inmates once they are released from prison (Flanagan, 1989), depending on the type of work an inmate performs. Thus, it is no surprise that work assignments are usually found in contemporary prisons.As these work assignments are so common, they may also be the only work experi-ences that individuals receive during their incarceration. Arguably, work assignments are provided in prisons to give inmates an opportunity to gain meaningful employment skills that may increase their abilities to find jobs upon release (Thompson, 2011). This idea is especially important because vocational programs along with other reha- bilitative programs have been cut in prisons due to budget shortages (Batchelder & Pippert, 2002; Porter, 2011). As more prison programming options are eliminated or scaled back, work assignments may become the only work experience an inmate might receive. Considering that work skills have been identified as influential factors in suc-cessful rehabilitation and reintegration (Cullen & Jonson, 2011), the types of work inmates are assigned and the skills they are learning with this work are increasingly important. Additionally, literature has shown that many inmates lack job skills or have unstable employment histories (Ramakers, van Wilsem, Nieuwbeerta, & Dirkzwager, 2015) which make reentry more difficult and the need for programs and job skills even greater.Current literature regarding work assignments in contemporary prisons shows that assignments are divided into three principle activities: prison industry, institutional maintenance or service tasks, and agriculture (Flanagan, 1989). The most common work assignments in prisons consist of facility support (e.g., office administration, food service, and building maintenance) followed by public works (Cullen & Jonson, 2011), both of which involve institutional maintenance or service tasks. Historically, and even more recently, research on prison work has noted that too often work duties, and other correctional policies, programs, and services in prison are influenced by stereotypes and controlling images (Franklin, 2008; Grana, 2010; Lee, 2000; Morash, Haarr, & Rucker, 1994; Morash & Robinson, 2002), meaning that frequently people are grouped into work areas based on what are perceived to be “appropriate tasks” for certain gender and racial groupings. For example, work such as sewing, cooking, and domestic tasks have been assigned to women (Franklin, 2008; Grana, 2010; Lee, 2000; Morash et al., 1994), whereas men have been assigned tasks such as public works or farming (Morash et al., 1994). This highlights the belief that women should be reformed through domestic training (Labelle & Kubiak, 2004; Rafter, 1990), whereas men are capable of more skilled and labor-based tasks. However, these examinations at UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA on September 14, 2016fcx.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Crittenden et al. 3 of prison work have rarely focused on the intersections of race and gender in how they affect work, even though there is evidence in labor market research that shows that even in more feminine lines of work, women of color are more apt to have jobs such as cleaning work while White women are more apt to take on professional roles such as nursing (Duffy, 2011). As prison work seems to mirror divisions in the general labor market, one may assume that examining it through an intersectional lens is well advised. The similarities between the labor market and prison labor are discussed  below. Women and Labor  Both historically and at present, scholars point to labor for women, in and out of  prison, as being influenced by stereotypes. In general society, women have been expected to participate in feminized labor, or labor that emphasizes their role as pas-sive, nurturing, and domestic (Goffman, 1977; Simpson, 2005; West & Zimmerman, 1987). For instance, women have often been steered toward domestic work or nurtur-ing positions such as nursing (Browne & Misra, 2003; Duffy, 2011). However, even in more feminized labor, there are divisions, typically based on race and class (Browne & Misra, 2003; Duffy, 2011). As noted by Duffy (2011), when looking at nurturant labor (e.g., nursing homes, assisted living care facilities) White women and women of color seem to take on very different roles. White women are more likely to have pro-fessional positions or to be nurses (Browne & Misra, 2003), whereas women of color are more likely to take on “dirty work” or cleaning, laundry, and food services (Duffy, 2011). This has been found in other studies as well, for example Nakano Glenn reports that “backroom jobs” (e.g., janitors, laundry workers, and cafeteria workers) are typi-cally relegated to women of color (Duffy, 2011). Additionally, the literature notes that domestic work is deeply imbedded in hierarchies of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Not only are domestic tasks associated with one gender (women), but gendered norms of childcare and housework being seen as “natural” for women devalue domestic work and workers. (Browne & Misra, 2003, p. 502) Domestic work has typically been carried out by minority women who earn low wages, which allows White women (and men) to leave the home and work as profes-sionals (Browne & Misra, 2003). Traditionally, the minority women who completed domestic work were Black women; however, more recently Latinas have been slowly moving into these roles (Browne & Misra, 2003; Duffy, 2011). Consequently, not only are Black women often relegated to lower status labor, this labor may be harder and harder for them to come by, making employment opportunities for Black women espe-cially limited.In prisons, women have often been viewed stereotypically (Dell, Fillmore, & Kilty, 2009; Franklin, 2008; Grana, 2010; Lee, 2000; Morash et al., 1994; Morash & Robinson, 2002). In fact, when feminine stereotypical work (e.g., domestic tasks) was first introduced in reformatories, it was done so to help wayward women get back on at UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA on September 14, 2016fcx.sagepub.comDownloaded from   4  Feminist Criminology the right track by teaching them to be “good women” (i.e., wives and mothers; Dell et al., 2009; Grana, 2010; Koons-Witt & Crittenden, 2013; Rafter, 1990). However, as is true for women in the labor market, women in prison were often treated differently  because of their race. This differential treatment has been explained through the idea of “controlling images” or views of inmates based on gender and race (Collins, 2000). For example, a view of African American women as asexual Mammies is one type of controlling image for them (Collins, 2000). The use of controlling images is especially  prominent for women prisoners in the old Southern prison leasing system. In this sys-tem, White women were given domestic tasks inside the home/plantation, though Black women were forced out into the fields to work alongside men (both White and Black; LeFlouria, 2011; Rafter, 1990). Black women were also expected to perform  jobs such as mining, turpentine production, blacksmithing, machine operation, and some domestic work, and they were subject to working on chain gangs, a punishment that was also likely for White and Black men, but rarely, if ever, applied to White women (LeFlouria, 2011). Hence, the history of differential treatment for women due to race is long standing within the correctional field. Even more recently, when com- pared with men, women tend to work in more feminine assignments such as facility services or laundry (Morash et al., 1994; Rafter, 1990); while this more recent com- parison of prison work has typically focused more on gender differences than gen-dered and racial differences, it indicates that prison work may still be influenced by stereotypical views of women. More specifically, given the current literature on the labor force, it may be assumed that these views of women may have a racialized lens.  Men and Labor  Similar to women, the labor field for men seems to be divided both by gender and race. While women are expected to work in labor fields that emphasize their nurturing and  passive behaviors, men are stereotypically assumed to be more capable of hard labor and tasks that require trained skill sets (Goffman, 1977). Additionally, men, particu-larly White men, have always had access to the public sphere (Furnham & Mak, 1999; Goffman, 1977), which allows them to complete such labor. As noted, work for men also seems to be divided along racial lines. For instance, White men are more apt to be in a professional field and are more likely to receive good blue collar jobs (Royster, 2007) compared with minority males. Even in low-wage jobs, research indicates that White men hold an advantage over other men (Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2006; Pager, Western, Bonikowski, 2009; Royster, 2007). The discussion of low-wage jobs is of  particular importance for this research, because this is the type of labor that is more available to prisoners once they have been released from prison (Pager et al., 2009). Studies examining low-wage labor have shown that not only are White men without criminal records at an advantage, White men who have been previously incarcerated are just as likely as men of color with no criminal record to gain employment in these  jobs (Pager et al., 2009; Royster, 2007), and Latinos are somewhat more apt to obtain these jobs than Black males. When minority males, both with and without criminal records, do obtain low-wage jobs, they are typically pushed into positions where they at UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA on September 14, 2016fcx.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Crittenden et al. 5 have limited contact with the public and require more manual labor (Pager et al., 2009). Studies have indicated that one reason minority males, particularly Black males, are less likely to be hired and more likely to be pushed to “the back of the house” is that employers may assume that young Black men are felons, lazy, or dan-gerous (Browne & Misra, 2003; Holzer et al., 2006). In fact, when employers conduct  background checks, they are more likely to hire Black candidates than when they do not, thus furthering the stereotypical argument (Holzer et al., 2006). Finally, while Black males appear to be at the bottom of the labor hierarchy for men, it seems that they are also less likely than Black women to be considered for positions (Holzer et al., 2006). Labor prospects for minority males, and Black males in particular, seem to be very much racialized and gendered with them performing tasks that are out of the  public eye and require manual labor.Regarding men and prison labor, there is a dearth of research examining the racial-ized nature of it. Typically, studies focusing on prison labor compare men and women (Morash et al., 1994), or discuss the ethics of forcing inmates to do work in prison (Davis, 1997; Thompson, 2011). Davis (1997) has even likened the use of prisoner labor to slavery, because inmates cannot demand rights or unionize. Historically, we know that in the South, the prison leasing system was quickly developed after the Civil War and inmates replaced slave labor (Johnson, 2000). These prisons were overpopu-lated with Black males and females who had short life expectancies due to the egre-gious conditions (Johnson, 2000; LeBaron, 2012). Again, as is the case with women, more recent literature examining differences in work assignments has tended to focus on gender rather than race and gender. For example, Morash and colleagues (1994) noted that a higher proportion of men had work assignments involving farming and forestry and maintenance and repair. However, they failed to note differences between men of different races. Considering the extant research noting a racialized treatment of men in the general labor force, an examination of prison labor assignments is essential to understand if this differential treatment of men extends into correctional treatment. Intersectionality  Over the last several decades, the correctional system has seen a dramatic increase in the population it supervises, with one of the more rapidly growing incarcerated groups consisting of women of color (Davis & Shaylor, 2001), while men of color are still disproportionately represented (Carson, 2015). During this time of rapid expansion, there has been a significant increase in research conducted examining the field of cor-rections, yet little of that research has focused on work completed by inmates, espe-cially on a national-level scale (for an example, see Morash et al., 1994). While the study by Morash and her colleagues showed that stereotypical practices remained in how women and men were assigned prison work, it did not examine if involvement in work varied by race for men and women, or the intersections of race and gender.Intersectionality in criminology is a growing body of research. Historically, intersec-tional research has focused on the study of women of color (Browne & Misra, 2003; Burgess-Proctor, 2006). Such research has noted that not only are there gendered at UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA on September 14, 2016fcx.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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