Friday, July 17, 2009

Is Amitjo Kajla To Pretty To Be A Prison Guard?

image Former prison guard Amitjo revealed to the industrial tribunal in Birmingham that she believes that she was forced out of her job because of her appearance.  She is claiming constructive unfair dismissal. The chief complaints sited against her were the amount of make up that she wore and the alteration of her work uniform.  The work uniform was deemed to be to revealing, while Kajla claims that it was only reduced to be size appropriate.

Her employers further found it problematic that she carried a handbag, waved hello to inmates and on occasion chose to sit with them during free association time.  The inmates in question ranged in age from 15 to 21 and were at the time deemed to be volatile.  It seems that Kajla’s appearance was understood to be a distraction

Miss Kajla claimed the criticism wore her down. “I couldn’t sleep at night because of the bullying and harassment. I lost weight and decided I couldn’t take it any longer and resigned.”

The job of prison guard is traditionally a male occupation.  It is quite common for women to experience harassment when they choose to cross the gender divide and take on positions that have been constructed as specifically male.  Female police officers, military personnel  etc., have repeatedly cited sexism as a significant deterrent to the successful completion of their duties. 

How does wearing make up in her position constitute a significant threat to safety?  Unlike an earring makeup cannot be grabbed during a scuffle.  “Mr Adam Farrer, for the prison service, suggested that going to work “glammed up” was not appropriate and that she was seen as a “soft touch”. For Kajlas wearing makeup is part of taking pride in her appearance.  Women who enter the public sphere with their faces unadorned are often attacked for not being suitably feminine.  Even when Kajlas  went with more neutral colors it was still deemed inappropriate.

While there are certain standardized behaviours that all people working with prison inmates must adhere to, offering a smile as a greeting should not lead to being chastised.  Displaying authority and power is not necessarily incongruent with acknowledging the humanity of those one is charged to police.  When these young men get released they are going to have to function within the larger society and if we deny them common niceties, they will never properly integrate.  At the heart of this issue is our tendency to treat inmates as though they are not human.  We fixate on the offense committed  and forget that behind each crime ,there is a story or a particular frame of reference that led to incarceration.

The facts revealed in this case are at the  preliminary stage however, the prison service in my opinion, has failed to show how Ms. Kajla behaved in an unprofessional manner or complete her assigned duties.  Their charges seem completely genderized and designed to discourage other women from seeking employment within the prison industrial complex.