We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

At Work in the Iron Cage

The Prison as Gendered Organization

Dana Britton

Publication Year: 2003

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.

Published by: NYU Press


pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF
p. v

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. vii-viii

I am deeply grateful to all of those who contributed to this project. I owe the greatest debt to the women and men I interviewed, who gave generously of their time and insight in helping an outsider to understand their work behind prison bars. ...

read more

1. Engendering the Prison

pdf iconDownload PDF
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...

read more

2. Penology in America: Men’s and Women’s Prisons as Gendered Projects

pdf iconDownload PDF
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...

read more

3. From Turnkey to Officer: Prison Work in Historical Perspective

pdf iconDownload PDF
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...

read more

4. Paths to Prison

pdf iconDownload PDF
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...

read more

5. Work with Inmates

pdf iconDownload PDF
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...

read more

6. The Rest of the Job: Coworkers, Supervisors, and Satisfaction

pdf iconDownload PDF
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. ...

read more

7. Conclusion

pdf iconDownload PDF
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...

Methodological Appendix

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 227-234


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 235-243


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 244-256


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 257-263

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF
p. 264

Dana M. Britton is Associate Professor of Sociology at Kansas State University. She received her B.A. in 1987 and M.A. in 1989 from the University of Oklahoma, and her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995. She has published numerous essays on gender...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814723081
E-ISBN-10: 081472308X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814798836
Print-ISBN-10: 0814798837

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 58844215
MUSE Marc Record: Download for At Work in the Iron Cage

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Inmate guards -- United States.
  • Criminal justice, Administration of -- United States.
  • Women correctional personnel -- United States.
  • Prisons -- United States -- Officials and employees.
  • Prisons -- United States.
  • Correctional personnel -- Training of -- United States.
  • Correctional personnel -- United States.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access