At Work in the Iron Cage

At Work in the Iron Cage: The Prison as Gendered Organization

Dana M. Britton
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qff44
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  • Book Info
    At Work in the Iron Cage
    Book Description:

    When most people think of prisons, they imagine chaos, violence, and fundamentally, an atmosphere of overwhelming brute masculinity. But real prisons rarely fit the Big House stereotype of popular film and literature. One fifth of all correctional officers are women, and the rate at which women are imprisoned is growing faster than that of men. Yet, despite increasing numbers of women prisoners and officers, ideas about prison life and prison work are sill dominated by an exaggerated image of men's prisons where inmates supposedly struggle for physical dominance.In a rare comparative analysis of men's and women's prisons, Dana Britton identifies the factors that influence the gendering of the American workplace, a process that often leaves women in lower-paying jobs with less prestige and responsibility.In interviews with dozens of male and female officers in five prisons, Britton explains how gender shapes their day-to-day work experiences. Combining criminology, penology, and feminist theory, she offers a radical new argument for the persistence of gender inequality in prisons and other organizations. At Work in the Iron Cage demonstrates the importance of the prison as a site of gender relations as well as social control.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2308-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Engendering the Prison
    (pp. 1-21)

    Imagine a prison guard. Whom do you see? If you are like most people, the vision in your mind’s eye is probably that of a hulking man in uniform carrying a nightstick or even a gun. Perhaps you imagine him as brutal and sadistic; at the very least, you see someone who would be able to deal easily with unruly inmates, to meet violence with violence, to “bang heads” if necessary. Now imagine the place in which he does his work. Again, if like most of the population you have little experience of prison and prison life, you in all...

  5. 2 Penology in America: Men’s and Women’s Prisons as Gendered Projects
    (pp. 22-50)

    Prisons are such a common feature of the American landscape that they have come to seem natural, indeed, inevitable. But prisons did not exist in the United States or in Europe until about two hundred years ago. During the colonial era and the early republic, crime and its consequences were left to the discretion of local communities. The fine and the lash were the most common punishments. The latter was often administered in public in hopes that the offender’s shame would be as effective a deterrent to crime as the beating itself (Colvin 1997; Hirsch 1992; Rothman 1990). Punishments were...

  6. 3 From Turnkey to Officer: Prison Work in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 51-77)

    From the earliest beginnings of the prison, the “keeper” has occupied an ambivalent position. Michel Foucault captures the paradox in his account of the late-eighteenth-century French debates over the establishment of the prison. A critic rejects the prison because those who would be keepers are surely “monsters among you … and if these odious men [exist], the legislator ought perhaps to treat them as murderers” (1979: 114, quoting Mably). Almost two centuries later, in her best-selling bookKind and Usual Punishment, Jessica Mitford asks, “For after all, if we were to ask a small boy, ‘What do you want to...

  7. 4 Paths to Prison
    (pp. 78-105)

    Very few of us work in the occupations to which we aspired in childhood. As Williams (1995) observes, if we did, there would be many more cowboys, professional football players, superheroes (whether of the Xena or Superman variety), nurses, and ballet dancers. As this list suggests, occupational socialization is a thoroughly gendered process. Cultural depictions, children’s play, and adult role models all shape the kinds of jobs that children come to see as appropriate for men and women (Marini and Brinton 1984). This is certainly true for those in my study. Few people grow up dreaming about future careers as...

  8. 5 Work with Inmates
    (pp. 106-165)

    New officers are prepared, by stereotype and training, to expect the worst behavior from inmates. Almost to a person, correctional officers speak of being constantly fearful during their first days on the job that they will be unable to manage recalcitrant inmates, fall victim to assaults, or even be killed in prison riots. Initial concerns usually dissipate, however, in the face of a work environment that bears only a cursory relationship to their preconceived notions or to the prisons depicted by training films. As this white woman, whose first assignment was to a maximum-security men’s prison, finds:

    Dealing with inmates...

  9. 6 The Rest of the Job: Coworkers, Supervisors, and Satisfaction
    (pp. 166-215)

    The fact that inmates are an involuntary population is what defines the prison as a total institution, and it makes the job of the correctional officer nearly unique in the realm of occupations. Many other features place it squarely in the mainstream, however. The organization in which officers do their jobs is bureaucratically structured along conventional lines, and COs’ day-to-day work responsibilities—for example, completing reports and other paperwork, managing the movement of people from place to place, enforcing rules and solving “client” problems—do not differ greatly from those of other service workers. It is these most conventional aspects...

  10. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 216-226)

    This book is, first and foremost, a study of the prison as a gendered organization. The theoretical foundation upon which I draw, and on which I hope to have built, remains an interloper in the field of organization studies, which has preferred to view gender, race, class, and sexuality as individual traits of workers instead of as essential components of organizations themselves (Martin and Collinson 2002). By arguing that the prisonqua organizationis gendered, I mean that rather than existing as a neutral bureaucratic entity, the prison was formed in and through a matrix of gender, race, class, and...

  11. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 227-234)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-243)
  13. References
    (pp. 244-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-263)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 264-264)