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'There remains much change to accomplish': Women in criminal justice hold conference in Springfield

The 27th Annual Women In Criminal Justice conference was held in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, on June 14, 2024.
Caitlin Reardon
/
NEPM
The 27th Annual Women In Criminal Justice conference was held in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, on June 14, 2024.

Event speakers and attendees discussed themes of mentorship, support and being a leader.

From female police officers to correctional superintendents, law enforcement workers from across the commonwealth gathered Friday in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the 27th annual Women In Criminal Justice conference.

Although women make up only 12% of officers across the country, those who spoke at the event emphasized an overarching message to attendees: women if the field should seek each other out for more professional mentorship and support.

Panelist speakers and workshop facilitators touched on the male-dominated history that presides over the line of work, while also celebrating its advances in gender and diversity.

This year’s honorary chair was Hampden County Sheriff’s Office retired assistant superintendent Dr. Patricia Murphy, who worked for 48 years in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

“We can appreciate the women who paved the way for us, whether it's 10 years ago or 100 years ago," Murphy said in her remarks. "We should never take that for granted. We can appreciate how far we've come. But know there remains much change to accomplish."

Panelists also talked about ways attendees can take more leadership initiative and foster empowerment both in the workplace and on a personal level.

Panelist and Massachusetts Department of Correction Director of Special Programs Kyle Pelletier said being vulnerable, although sometimes scary, is an important step when facing challenges. This authenticity, she said, was what she took away most from her own mentors.

“That feels very lonely if you don't share that self-doubt, because it's something we all experience. So finding someone to share that with you that can help you realize, is that real? Is it something I need to work on, or is that something that is just I got to get over?” Pelletier said.

Tufts University Executive Director of Public Safety Yolanda Smith, also a panelist at the conference, said she helps her own colleagues with “a lot of nurturing, a lot of mentoring, and allowing them space to be their authentic selves and feeling comfortable.”

Studies noted by the Department of Justice show that hiring more women in law enforcement doesn’t just correct the underrepresentation of the past — female officers are less likely to use excessive force on the job, and also improve police response to domestic violence against women.

Guests also participated in workshops and breakout sessions to reflect on their personal experiences in such male-dominated spaces, and discuss creative approaches to their career paths.

“Approach those powers-that-be at work — whether it's the sheriff, the chief of police, whomever you're working for — with your idea, and they may embrace it, they may not. But don't stop there if you get a negative response,” Hampden County Sheriff’s Office program manager and workshop facilitator Maria Puppolo said.

“Continue with that passion and your desire," she said. "And because, believe it or not, you're going to be more fulfilled in the process, too."

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