Essex County Sheriff Lowers Age Requirement For Correction Officers

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MIDDLETON, Mass. (State House News Service) — Feeling the squeeze of a tight labor market that has employers of almost all types getting creative when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers, Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger will now start hiring corrections officers as young as 19 years old.

The sheriff's office said it is not the first time it has lowered its minimum age below 21 years old and that many of its veteran officers "began their careers here at age 19 and have proven to be very successful in our employ." The minimum age is being lowered once again to deal with a "critical shortage of officers," the department said, and the policy change will be paired with "an enhanced focus on applicant qualifications, staff training, and first-line supervision upon graduation."

"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," Coppinger 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."

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Coppinger's office began taking applications Monday from people who will be 19 years old as of June 1. The job comes with a $2,500 sign-on bonus and yearly salary of up to $68,000. The new hires may also qualify for a state tuition reimbursement program to cover as much as 100 percent of tuition at state educational institutions.

Late last year, a panel of Massachusetts sheriffs told lawmakers that they are struggling with attrition and hiring slowdowns fueled in part by long hours and work conditions of corrections officers.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi, the new president of the Massachusetts Sheriffs Association, cited "quality-of-life issue improvements" as a key point of emphasis and said that sheriffs were consulting with national advisors on strategies to make 2023 "the year of the correctional officer."

Written by Colin Young/SHNS.

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