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TDCJ, here’s your moment in the sexual harassment spotlight

Please learn from it.

More than a decade after a sexual assault scandal rocked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the agency is still a “boys’ club” plagued by sexual harassment and a culture that makes it difficult for women to get promoted despite efforts to bring them into the ranks, according to more than a dozen current and former employees.

Three of the 10 highest-paid employees in the prison system and about 25 percent of wardens are women, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of 2017 state data.

But female officers also have to contend with harassment from coworkers, masturbating inmates and fear of retaliation if they complain, according to lawsuits, state records and interviews.

“You think it’s the inmates you have to worry about,” said one former employee, who asked not to be identified, “but it’s actually the people you work with.”

Some women told the Chronicle of enduring lewd comments or inappropriate contact from co-workers. One female employee said she and other women guards picked jobs working around inmates to avoid having contact with the men who supervised them.

The latest allegations come amid the rise of the #MeToo movement, which has focused a national spotlight on allegations of sexual abuse and harassment. And they follow a $250,000 settlement reached by the department last year in a lawsuit accusing a male lieutenant of raping an officer he supervised — a claim reminiscent of former assistant director Sammy Buentello, who retired in 2004 amid criminal charges and a high-dollar lawsuit by multiple women accusing him of sexual harassment and assault.

[…]

More than 44 percent of TDCJ employees are female, but those numbers include administrative assistants, librarians, attorneys and the high-ranking officials overseeing it all.

Even fewer guards — just 38 percent of the more than 22,000 corrections officers —are women.

Higher ranks are even more male-dominated. About 27 percent of sergeants are women. Moving up, about 25 percent of captains, 26 percent of lieutenants, and just 21 percent of majors and assistant wardens are women.

“You just have a culture of indifference, the good-old-boy system as they call it,” said Lance Lowry, a Huntsville corrections officer and former union president. “And the numbers clearly reflect that. If 38 percent of the officers are female, 38 percent of the sergeants should be, too.”

The disparity in promotions corresponds to a disparity in the average pay, with women earning about $2,700 a year less than men throughout the department, according to 2017 data.

As the story notes, this is not the first time TDCJ has had these issues, and even with all the attention being paid to sexual harassment in the workplace, the odds are it won’t be the last time, too. It’s a long and detailed piece, so go read the whole thing, and then contemplate the fact that an enterprising reporter could point her notebook at just about any major workplace, inside or outside of government, and come away with a similar tale. That is, after all, what this is all about. Grits has more.

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