Oklahoma DOC wants to hire teenage prison guards…

Even though the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and critical thinking is about seven years away from fully developed, we sure put a lot of responsibility on 18-year-olds when it comes to adulting.

That being said, though the teens are considered to be “adults” in the eyes of the law, there are many professions in Oklahoma that won’t hire applicants under age 21 due to the potential hazards of the job requiring someone with a little more impulse control and rational thinking life experience to fulfill the duties.

But luckily for newly minted 18-year-olds in our state, the prison guard career path may soon be available for them!

Via Oklahoma Watch

Teenagers, fresh out of high school, could be hired to guard and oversee hardened criminals in Oklahoma’s chronically overcrowded and understaffed prisons.

In a little-noticed action, the Oklahoma Board of Corrections passed a set of legislative requests earlier this month that include allowing prisons to hire corrections officials as young as 18.  Currently the minimum age is 20.

The Department of Correction has struggled for years to attract and retain workers for the job, which now starts with a salary of just under $33,000 a year.

Despite a $2-per-hour raise passed earlier this year, the department recently announced it continues to struggle to fill hundreds of positions throughout the state.

It’s too early to tell if the Legislature will take up the request to lower the minimum age during next year’s session. But the proposal already is raising this question both within and outside of the prison system: Are 18- or 19-year-olds able to perform such a potentially dangerous and sensitive job?

Come on, ya’ll are worried about giving that much responsibility to 18-year-olds? If they can flip burgers, wait tables, or save lives at White Water, they can surely watch people kick sand around a prison yards. It’s better than forcing them to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student debt or sending them overseas with a gun.

While the ACLU is arguing that the Oklahoma prison system needs to focus on decreasing the prison population instead of increasing the number of guards, the Department of Corrections believes that the reduction in the age restriction for applicants will open up a new career path for teenagers. And it’s hard not to agree with that logic. Because the earlier teens discover that employers are more likely to value profits over protecting their employees, the better off they’ll be.

“It is scary to think about teenagers being in these positions of power in a system where they have limited resources,” said Nicole McAfee, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. “That’s putting a lot of responsibilities, as well as liabilities, in their hands…”

  Even the suggestion of hiring teenagers in these roles is causing concern among rank-and-file corrections workers.

Bobby Cleveland, executive director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, the statewide organization for Corrections Department staffers, said he hasn’t talked to single correctional officer who supports the move.

Cleveland said raising pay is the solution to fixing the department’s staffing woes. If corrections officers had to choose, they would prefer having the best people in the job to being closer to fully staffed, he said.

“They want someone they can trust, someone who they can depend on,” he said. “Because this is a hard job: it’s stressful, it’s dangerous and there’s nothing easy about it.”

The DOC is not dropping the age of recruitment to open new career paths for Oklahoma teenagers. The reason why the age is currently set at age 20 is probably because the DOC has recognized that anyone younger may not be emotionally or socially mature enough to be the best fit for guards at prisons. So more than likely the only reason the DOC is looking at dropping the age of recruitment is because it’s more profitable to compete with Sonic for 18-year-olds with a $33,000 per year salary than to offer a decent wage for its potential employees or decreasing the astronomical prison population in Oklahoma.

Hayley probably won’t be an adult until well after age 30. Follow her on twitter @squirrellygeek