Stunning Fact of the Day

It comes from Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker essay, “This is My Jail,” about the infamous Baltimore City jail known as BCDC. Here you go:

Seventy-five percent of the six hundred and fifty correctional officers in the facility were women, and, according to one inmate witness, between sixty and seventy-five percent of them were involved in “contraband smuggling and/or having sexual relationships with inmates.”

Forget for a moment the dismaying corruption noted in the latter part of that paragraph; I’m stuck on the gender disparity of the guards. Seventy-five percent are women! That number barely computes. (The female/male split at BCDC is now closer to 60/40; nationwide it’s about 50/50, which is still surprising.) The reason for the disparity?

Salaries for corrections officers at the B.C.D.C. start at about thirty-seven thousand dollars a year, and any job is coveted in this desolate part of Baltimore. Brenda V. Smith, a professor at American University Washington College of Law, who has studied female prison guards and inmates extensively, told me, “Women are often the only ones who can pass the screens for a job in a jail. You have to have a high-school degree. You have to pass a background investigation and have no criminal record. You have to pass a drug test, urinalysis. The men who live around the jail in Baltimore are less likely to pass those tests. Those jobs have to go to women.

Fascinating . . . and it makes perfect sense. Then there’s the corruption, and the fact that Baltimore really is a small town: “the female guards in Baltimore came from the same neighborhoods as the inmates. Many of them knew each other, or knew of each other, in their prior lives.” The article focuses on Tavon White, a gang leader and inmate at BCDC who is said to have fathered five children with four different guards. If you’ve got a half hour, it’s worth your time.

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