Okla. DOC seeks to hire 18-year-olds to work in prisons

A DOC spokesperson says not being able to hire 18-year-olds "really limits" the agency


By Sarah Calams

TULSA, Okla. — What do you think the minimum age requirement should be to become a corrections officer? In a recent poll, 60% of Corrections1 readers agreed on 21 years of age. However, in Oklahoma they're seeking to hire 18-year-olds to work in prisons amid staffing shortages. 

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections, according to KOCO.com, is facing a shortage of nearly 500 employees. Justin Wolf, an Oklahoma DOC spokesperson, says not being able to hire 18-year-olds "really limits" the agency. 

"Not only is that just a numbers game, but it's also about providing an opportunity for career development and really a lifelong career in corrections," Wolf said. "When we allow ourselves the authority to hire these adults who are eligible to vote and serve their country, it gives us a broader applicant pool to pull from."

Currently, 18-year-olds are allowed to work at the Oklahoma County Jail.

"We don't judge anybody on their age. We take everybody individually on their merits. You can be an 18-year-old and really have the skills necessary to become a deputy to become a great employee. We've actually had employees that started at 18 and all the way up to captains. Somebody just left the other day who went to another agency who's now a major. They started here when they were 18 years old. This is the only job they've ever had," said Mark Opgrande of the Oklahoma County Detention Center.

DOC officials are currently working with lawmakers to change the age requirement statute. State Rep. Justin Humphrey, who worked for the DOC for two decades, says the staffing situation is "truly dangerous." 

"We're really in danger of having increased contraband, increased violence and the possibility of riots which is always about loss of life," Humphrey said. "I feel like 18 is too young but I will tell you, where we're at right now, I have backed up and said I'm willing to look at a proposal."

According to Wolf, 18-year-old hires would be placed at posts that are "not weapons posts, that aren't specialized management posts and aren't posts over security threat groups."

Tricia Everest, the state's Secretary for Public Safety, says the DOC should market to the 35-40 age group. This age group, she says, could "make a difference in transforming inmates' lives into tax-paying and thriving citizens."

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