Women have been involved in correctional work in the United States since the 18th century. Their early efforts were focused on system reform and engaging in charitable activities. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women could only work in female institutions. That changed in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in the workplace based on a number of things including sex. In 1972, the prohibition of sex discrimination in employment was expanded to cover state and local governments. As a result, the 1970s saw increasing numbers of women entering the corrections workforce. In the breakout session, “Her” story: The history of women in California corrections in their own words,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Acting Undersecretary of Operations Kathleen Allison will moderate a panel discussion with three retired women who started working in California corrections in the 1970s: Jill Brown, Joanne Gordon and Cheryl Pliler. In their own words, Brown Gordon and Pliler will share the challenges they faced, how they transcended barriers during a time when few women were working in corrections, how they mentored other women, and what we can learn from their experiences.
Kathleen Allison, director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations’ Division of Adult Institutions, is serving as the acting undersecretary of operations for CDCR, overseeing the state’s adult, juvenile, parole and rehabilitation systems. As director, Allison was responsible for facility support and operation of California’s 35 prisons and contract facilities which house nearly 130,000 inmates. Her career with CDCR spanning 31 years includes serving as a deputy director, associate director, warden, chief deputy warden, associate warden, community resources manager, senior medical technical assistant and technical assistant. Allison uses the knowledge gained from this broad spectrum of experience to apply a hands-on, focused, and strategic approach to executive management and overcome operational challenges in the correctional arena. She has an associate of science degree in registered nursing from Pacific Union College.
Jill Brown began her state career in 1975 working at the Department of Mental Health. She transferred to what was then called the California Department of Corrections in 1977 in the Parole and Community Services Division as a personnel assistant. She promoted over the next few years working in personnel and labor relations and participating in labor negotiations, conducting related research, and interpreting policy. She also investigated grievances and prepared responses and other personnel actions. In 1983, Brown promoted to correctional sergeant at San Quentin State Prison. She served as a business manager responsible for developing and implementing systems for monitoring overtime use by custody and non-custody staff. She transferred to California Medical Facility in 1985 where she planned, organized and directed accounting, personnel, food services, procurement and fire protection operations. She also directed efforts to ensure that purchasing and staffing requirements were met for the activation of a new 2,500-bed facility and had oversight of fiscal operations.
Brown worked at the Department of Education from 1988 to 1995 and for a time left state service to work as an early intervention consultant with Mayfield and Associates. In 1995, she worked as an employee relations officer at Correctional Training Facility, responsible for labor relations matters. She promoted to associate warden at CTF in 1997, chief deputy warden at CTF in 2000, chief deputy warden at Deuel Vocational Institution in 2004, and warden at San Quentin State Prison in 2004.
Brown received an associate of arts degree from Santa Ana College in 1971 and a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from California State University, San Francisco, in 1995.
Joanne Gordon began her career with the California Department of Corrections as a correctional officer in 1974. In 1976, she completed a training assignment as a parole agent and then transferred to California Institution for Men in 1977 as a correctional program supervisor. Between 1979 and 1983, Gordon promoted in the correctional counselor ranks at CIM and California Institution for Women. In 1984, she was promoted to program administrator at CIM and correctional captain. She served as a program administrator at California Rehabilitation Center in 1985, associate warden at CIW in 1987, and associate warden at CRC in 1991. She served as a parole administrator in 1992 and a regional administrator in 1993 where she provided direction to wardens related to all phases of prison operations. Gordon became warden of CRC in 1997.
During her career, Gordon also served on the Human Relations Council at CRC, the Women’s Liaison Council in the parole division, and was an equal opportunity counselor at CRC.
Gordon received an associate of arts degree in criminal justice from Chaffey College in 1976.
Cheryl Pliler began her correctional career in 1974 as a case records analyst at California Medical Facility and promoted to a supervisory position at California Correctional Institution the following year. She returned to CMF to serve as the Women’s Training Coordinator. During the 1970s, Pliler was a member of the department’s Records Officer Realignment Task Force, was responsible for the Archives Unit, completed a special assignment on the Information Practices Task Force, was a case records manager at the Board of Prison Terms and served as the assistant chief of the Sentence Review Unit.
In 1981, Pliler promoted to staff services manager at the Board of Prison Terms and had oversight of labor relations, personnel, management analysis and accounting. She was a parole agent in 1984, a supervisor correctional counselor at Folsom State Prison in 1987. Later that year, Pliler was promoted to correctional administrator at Avenal State Prison responsible for classification and treatment, housing and custody operations, records, appeals, and inmate education, religious, hobby craft, library and vocational programs.
In 1989, Pliler served as a deputy commissioner at the Board of Prison Terms. She promoted to chief deputy warden at North Kern State Prison in 1993, warden at California Correctional Center in 1995, and warden at California State Prison, Sacramento, in 1998. In 2003, Pliler was appointed the deputy director of the Institutions Division.