By Claire Stremple
Alaska Beacon 

State council says no to hiring prison guards at 18


January 3, 2024

The Alaska Police Standards Council has voted down a regulation change that would have allowed the state to hire corrections officers as young as 18 years old — the current minimum age is 21.

The Department of Corrections floated the proposal as a tool to combat its staff shortage, insufficient applicant pool and high vacancy rate. In September, the department reported more than 100 open positions for prison officers and a 30% decrease in applications compared to the previous year.

Most members of the council wanted to accept the new regulation, but said the department needed a plan in place to train and support younger hires.

Department of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Brian Barlow said he was among those who had “discomfort” with the regulation as written. “However, I do think there’s a way forward,” he said.

He said there are dangers associated with hiring younger people to work with hardened criminals, but that there is also a danger in having a significant number of vacant positions in a prison.

Council Chair Rebecca Harmon said her experience with younger first responders in King Salmon has shown her that 18-year-olds can handle responsibility in areas like emergency medical services.

Some council members, including former Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Dan Carothers, spoke out against the regulation change at the Dec. 4 council meeting. He cautioned that an immature person would risk staff and inmate safety.

“It’s a very difficult job and it takes someone to be fully developed and have a very clear and strong understanding of right and wrong. And I have concerns about it because I think 18-, 19-year-olds, I mean, they make mistakes,” he said.

David Knapp, a Palmer corrections officer, said the idea is not popular among his colleagues. “When this regulation proposal came out, I took it upon myself to go out and talk to my fellow officers. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens about this issue. Not one supports it.”.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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