Closing the Gender Wage Gap in Wyoming

By on September 21, 2009

It is widely discussed in Wyoming that men make more money than women, otherwise known as the Gender Wage Gap.  The primary issue is that the higher paying jobs in Wyoming are usually male dominated, such as oil/gas roughneck, miner, truck driver, etc.  Many in the state have been working to bring more women into these fields that have been male dominated.  The Western Wyoming Community College has a great training program for working in the gas fields and thus getting into those higher paying jobs.

Below is a story that was issued today by the Wyoming Department of Corrections about two women that have been named Captains in the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins.  I have had occassion to tour the pen a few times and from my observations, working there and dealing with maximum security prisoners has got to be a stressful job.  Here are two women that are breaking down the barriers and getting into an area that has been seen as a male dominated job in the past.

Captain Halcomb and Caruthers pin on Corporal Lineberry's bars

Captain Halcomb and Caruthers pin on Corporal Lineberry's bars

Women Break Down Barriers as Captains with the Wyoming Department of Corrections

Two women in the Wyoming Department of Corrections are breaking down barriers and changing perception as the first two female captains at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, Wyoming.

Captains Carrie Caruthers and Patricia Halcomb achieved rank as the first and second female captains, respectively. Halcomb is also the first female Hispanic captain at WSP.

Both have extensive backgrounds in corrections where they worked hard for their careers – a field that may be considered by some to be a “man’s world”.

Caruthers began her career in 1995 with the Arizona Department of Corrections. At the time she was a newly-divorced, single mother with no self esteem who was required to attend a nine-week boot camp. She made the difficult decision to leave her baby in her sister’s care. “There I learned the core basics of who I am and what I do. It taught me self esteem,” Caruthers said. It was during her time in Arizona that she decided she wanted to be a warden.

She then worked in Burlington, Colo. working for the Corrections Corporation of America before taking a break for her family. She resumed her career as an officer with the Kansas Department of Corrections and worked her way up to master sergeant, along with other duties. She came to WDOC in 2007.

Halcomb began her career in 1995 as a jailer at the Anderson County Jail in East Texas where she was quickly promoted to jail supervisor. “The irony was that I was only 22 years old, Hispanic and female, and supervised other jailers that had been there longer than me. I had no supervisory skills, so I did the best I could and always treated people with respect,” she said. She also worked in juvenile court as a translator (she is fluent in Spanish) and patrolled after shift and assisted in serving warrants.

She began at WSP in August 1997. “I immediately realized that there was opportunity for advancement and I moved up the ladder fairly quickly,” she said. She promoted from corporal to sergeant then transferred to the Training Academy when it was first developed and spent four-and-a-half years there. She then applied for lieutenant at WSP and, once she was promoted, she assumed the role as a watch commander.

Both women agree they’ve had to work hard to prove themselves, but feel respected at WSP and have a good support system. Their decisions to try for the rank of captain were well supported, especially by their husbands. Coincidentally, both have husbands who work for the department in the rank of sergeant.

Caruthers says a lot of credit goes to her husband, Richard. “The only reason I sit where I do is because of him. He created my self esteem,” she said. It isn’t an issue that she is two ranks above her husband. “He is truly a man of integrity and it’s all about OUR success. When I told him I thought about going for captain, he said, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’”

“(WSP) Warden (Eddie) Wilson was a huge factor in why I’m captain. He took the time to mentor me and he taught me a lot,” she said. “He felt if you’re qualified, you’re capable whether you’re male or female. It’s not common to have a warden feel that way.”

Halcomb says she has always been her own biggest encourager and critic, but her husband, Brian, and her mother have always supported everything she does. “My husband is very supportive and because he knows what the stresses of our jobs are, even though we do different things, its basic understanding,” she said. “He’s my best friend and we keep work in perspective.”

Once becoming captain, she realized how effective her position can be. “The responsibility is huge and being part of a Unit Management team is a balancing act, while still balancing the needs of your staff and inmate safety. It is very challenging,” she said.

Caruthers loves corrections and finds it exciting and rewarding. She garners respect from her peers, supervisors and subordinates, but she says while being a female captain is significant, it should not be so significant, and she wants other women to know that corrections is not a career for males only. “We are taught a great deal when men and women work together,” she said. “And the Equality State really means the Equality State in Wyoming.”

Halcomb says women can be an integral part of corrections, she has felt this herself. “I have always felt that I am obligated to represent WSP and women in corrections where ever I go and what ever I do,” she said. “Learning to be yourself and having confidence in everything you do will be the most effective strategy. Don’t try to be someone you are not.”

Other personal challenges include her minority and her stature (she is 5’4”), and she had to prove she was “just as smart and capable as anyone else in those positions.” After being at WSP for 14 years she has seen changes and acceptance in diversity.

Caruthers has recently transferred as captain to WMCI where she will continue toward her goal of warden. Halcomb is now the only female captain at WSP and, right now, she is comfortable remaining in that position.

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