Smith pointed out that men are incarcerated at far higher rates than women. "Because 93 percent of the people in custody are male, if you precluded women from working with men, then you are going to really limit their employment opportunities in this profession," she said.

State corrections officials say the indicted officers' alleged behavior should not reflect on the majority of women in the profession.

"Bottom line, this isn't an issue of gender, it's an issue of integrity," state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Rick Binetti said in a statement.

The city jail's security director, Shavella Miles, lost her job in the aftermath of the scandal. State corrections officials have not discussed the move in detail but said the security director failed a polygraph test.

FBI agents wrote in a court filing that some corrections supervisors had given gang members latitude for their activities in exchange for a reduction in violence at the jail.

But Miles has not been charged with any crime or even mentioned in the indictments. Her lawyer has said she's being made a scapegoat in the case.

Despite the challenges, women continue to be drawn to the corrections field.

About a decade ago, Lyons was a single mother of two and had an administrative office job that offered no benefits. She wanted something better for her children, so she applied for a job in corrections.

She saw an opportunity for security and good benefits. "The jail's going to keep running, and they're going to still need people to work," she said.

For some women, the corrections field offers better opportunities than they can find elsewhere, said Smith. Most female correctional officers are single, and many are women of color, especially in urban areas that have a large minority population.

"I don't think anybody wakes up and says, 'I want to be a correctional officer,' " said Smith, "I think people take them because they are government jobs, they have good benefits, and they have job security."

The nationwide median salary for a correctional officer is about $39,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In Maryland, recruitment materials for correctional officers advertise a starting salary of $35,700 and benefits such as 10-25 vacations days per year, free MTA transportation, health coverage and retirement plans. With overtime, the average compensation approaches $50,000, according to state legislative analysts.

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED and must be at least 21. (The minimum age has been raised since Riley began working at age 19.)

According to a 2011 survey by the American Correctional Association, more than 2,600 women are working in correctional security in Maryland state institutions.

While corrections officials say women make up only about 36 percent of correctional officers in state-run facilities, they account for more than 60 percent in some institutions. Those include the Baltimore City correctional and detention centers, as well as the city's Central Booking and Intake Facility. The Western Correctional Institution, a maximum-security facility in Cumberland, has the smallest proportion of female officers at about 9 percent.

On duty

In Towson on a recent day, women were staffing many posts at the Baltimore County Detention Center, working with both male and female inmates that the jail houses. Two of them worked the control room, where rows of TV screens hung from the ceiling. Another officer pressed the fingers of a skinny blond woman onto the screen of a digital fingerprint machine in the intake area.

In her 10 years at the facility, county director of corrections Deborah Richardson has seen a significant growth in the number of female officers.

A U.S. Supreme Court case in 1977 helped pave the way for more women to work with male inmates. In Dothard v. Rawlinson, a woman prevailed when she challenged Alabama's requirements that correctional officers stand at least 5 feet 2 inches and weigh at least 120 pounds — restrictions that violated the Civil Rights Act, the court found.