SALT LAKE CITY — A bill is moving through the Utah State Legislature that would allow 19-year-olds to work as corrections officers across the state. The current age requirement is 21.
New legislation is being considered to let the department of corrections hire 19-year-olds within the prison. The legislation would also remove the sunset (expiration date) from a pilot program at the Salt Lake County Jail that allows younger hires.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera says when she first became sheriff in 2017, she noticed they were down about 138 deputies. She says the agency realized the pool of candidates had shrunk. They had a cadet program with the Unified Police Department, with great candidates, so they decided to try and hire younger. A bill was passed in 2019 that allowed them to hire 19-year-olds.
Under the program, 19-year-olds are only permitted to work in certain areas of the jail. They are also not permitted to carry a firearm or transport inmates.
It’s been piloted over the past three years, and Rivera says it’s been a success.
Since then, they’ve hired 52 younger corrections officers, and 80 percent are still in the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. The ones who left are still in law enforcement in other departments.
Now, other law enforcement agencies across the state want to hire younger corrections officers in order to help address the shortage.
“It’s a great program for young individuals that want to make law enforcement a career. All the other sheriffs supported what we were doing, but they did not participate with it," Rivera said. "Now the other sheriffs see that our program is working very well, and they are thinking of doing the same thing."
The bill will move on to the Senate for a vote after a Senate Committee unanimously voted Thursday to make the Salt Lake County program permanent and allow 19-year-olds to work as corrections officers throughout the state.