Poll call: What should be the minimum age to become a corrections officer?

Corrections1 readers, as they did in 2021, believe that 21, not 18, is the appropriate minimum age for corrections officers

After a Pennsylvania county jail announced it had hired 18-year-old high school graduates to bolster staffing and fill vacancies, something a Tennessee sheriff's office did in 2021, we asked Corrections1 readers, “What should be the minimum age requirement to become a corrections officer?”  

Only 17% of respondents selected 18. More than half (59%) of respondents chose 21 years of age, while 21% selected older than 21.  

CO recruitment is second to only CO retention as the biggest challenges corrections faced in 2022 and the two things usually go hand in hand. A department that is maximizing retention of its best-performing COs is often a destination employer and can easily recruit new COs for occasional openings. A correctional facility with high turnover and low retention needs to constantly recruit and likely struggles to bring in enough qualified applicants for numerous open positions.  

CO recruitment is an ongoing problem 

For local, state and federal corrections department employers, all solutions need to be considered to meet the current recruitment challenge. Lowering the minimum age for COs to 18 years of age increases the applicant pool and potentially brings a younger person into the profession straight out of high school. It would also mean they would join the corrections profession before they might seek comparable public service employment in law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services or military service.  

Despite ongoing problems with retention, recruitment, and general political and social apathy toward corrections, the opinion of C1 readers on the question of a minimum age for COs has essentially remained unchanged over the past year. In November 2021, C1 readers answered the same question, “What should be the minimum age requirement to become a corrections officer?” 

And a similar number of respondents answered the question in 2021 – with 60% choosing 21 years of age, 23% selecting older than 21 and 16% choosing 18 years of age. In 2021 and 2022, a small number of respondents selected “not sure.”  

A minimum age of 21 also has broad support from Police1 poll respondents. In late 2020, 63% of respondents selected 21. In that poll, only 6% selected 18, while 25 years of age was selected by nearly one-third (29%) of respondents.  

CO recruitment in 2023 

The challenge of recruiting COs remains daunting. Corrections employers continue to compete against other employers who are offering similar or higher wagers, lower risk working conditions and work hours that are more likely to be weekdays. To bring in applicants in 2023, continue to do these things:  

  • Cast a wide net with social media content, including videos, attend career fairs at high schools and colleges, and build connections with schools and youth-serving organizations in surrounding communities.  

  • Appeal to applicants who are looking for opportunities to serve their community, make a difference in the lives of others and professional growth. A career in corrections can offer all those things.  

  • Maintain high standards for selecting COs who will uphold the ethics of the profession, serve with honor and dignity, and humanely treat inmates with authority and compassion.  

We want to hear from you: Is your department hiring 18-year-olds as COs? What is your department doing differently in 2023 to increase the number of applicants for open positions?  

Readers Respond

  • This is a tough one. My vote would be for 21, or higher, but I realize staffing is a huge issue for jurisdictions right now. I think more importantly though, is to start recruits with on-the-job training and a good supervisor prior to academy training to see if this line of work is for them and to possibly save money on training. Prior to the pandemic and these staffing issues, I would have also made a case for a 60-credit hour mandate.  

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