Starting Monday, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department is lowering its minimum age for correctional officers from 21 years old to 19 years old to help address a critical shortage of officers.
“We have a staffing issue we are doing our best to correct. This is a controlled environment and not a job you can do remotely,” said Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger.
Graduating classes of correctional officers are generally between 30 and 35 people. However, a class graduating Monday is half that size, he said.
Coppinger said by lowering the minimum age to apply they hope to attract more candidates.
The staff shortage is not something unique to Essex County.
Coppinger said he’s spoken to peers in Massachusetts who are also having hiring difficulties. The trend is also mirrored nationally, fueled by “anti-law enforcement feelings” across the country, he said.
Due to the negative views, he said, “a lot of people don’t want to enter law enforcement.”
This is not the first time Essex County has recruited candidates at a younger age. Several of the department’s veteran officers began their careers here at age 19 and have proven to be very successful in their careers, he said.
It’s unclear when the sheriff’s department started requiring applicants to be 21.
“All law enforcement agencies are struggling to fill positions, but the need is even more dire in correctional facilities. By lowering the age to 19, we can provide an opportunity for younger people to begin their law enforcement career upon graduating high school,” he said.
“Correctional officers are not just responsible for the care, custody, and control of inmates. They are responsible for helping those that come to us leave our facilities ready for life as a successful citizen – and we need more officers to continue to fulfill this mission,” he said.
New correctional officers receive a $2,500 sign-on bonus and a salary of up to $68,000 a year. New hires are also eligible for the state’s tuition reimbursement program that covers up to 100% of tuition at state educational institutions.
Due to security concerns, Coppinger said he could not detail exactly how many officers the department is lacking. However, he said all shifts at correctional facilities are always filled even if forced, mandatory overtime has to be used.
However, Coppinger said forced overtime leads to burnout and morale issues.