Fla. county considers sponsoring corrections academy to attract new recruits

With fewer candidates willing to pay for academy training, and an ongoing staffing shortage, Okaloosa County hopes this new effort will help stem the tide


By Sarah Sinning

CRESTVIEW, Fla. — Facing a staffing shortage, the Okaloosa County Jail may soon be footing the bill for unlicensed correctional officer recruits to attend an academy, NWF Daily News reports

“We’ve had shortages in the past, but to this level, I think no," said Eric Esmond, the director of the county's Department of Corrections. "I’ve personally not experienced it. I think it’s a nationwide problem."

Class 287 of the College of Central Florida's correctional academy graduates in 2019.
Class 287 of the College of Central Florida's correctional academy graduates in 2019. (Facebook/CF Corrections Academy 287)

As of January 10, there were 16 CO vacancies at the facility, which is fully staffed at 127.

While Esmond says the county used to be able to meet staffing needs by hiring certified officers from the state or attracting former military applicants willing to send themselves through an academy, that is no longer the case today.

“As time has progressed, there’s virtually no one that is attending an academy and paying for it out of pocket,” Esmond said. “That’s the system we’re looking to put in place because it will give us the opportunity to be competitive.”

If approved, the county will use $200,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to sponsor 20 students through an 11-week course. 

Neighboring counties and the state Department of Corrections already have similar programs in place, Esmond said, which allow unlicensed candidates to be hired on at a lower hourly wage while they attend training. Upon graduation, recruits work under the guidance of licensed officers while they prepare to pass their state certification exam.

“We will continue to attend job fairs that are hosted by the local colleges and universities, but we think that this particular endeavor would really strike to the core of the problem we have," Esmond said.

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