By Mike Steely
Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler is having trouble recruiting men and women to become correctional officers at the county jail. He recently asked the Knox County Commission for permission to drop the minimum entry age to 18 years.
Spangler told the commission that this would permit the department to recruit at high schools similar to the U.S. Military. Currently the minimum age is 19 and, prior to that, the age to work in corrections was 21 years.
The request hit some opposition on the commission last week and even among the junior commissioners who sat in on the meeting. Merit board member John Marshall described the recruitment of 18-year-olds as “needed to fill vacancies.”
Sheriff Spangler and Corrections Chief William Purvis spoke in favor of the idea. Commissioner Kim Frazier questioned a psychological evaluation of 18-year-olds. Commissioner Richie Beeler said he trusted the change, pointing to the request coming from the sheriff and the merit board.
Commissioner Kyle Ward, a combat veteran, said becoming a correctional officer should be a choice of the 18-year-olds and noted soldiers of that age serve in the military.
The maturity and mental development of that age group was questioned by Commissioner Gina Oster, the former chair of the merit council. She said the frontal lobe does not fully develop until age 25.
“The maturity level is not there,” Oster said. She said that other metropolitan counties require correctional officers to be 21 years old and only the more rural counties surrounding Knox County hire at 18 years old.
Frazier made a motion to move the issue to Tuesday’s commission meeting without a recommendation but that effort failed in a vote 5-4-1 with Ward abstaining. Voting to pass the substitute motion saw Commissioners Oster, Frazier, Terry Hill, John Schoonmaker, and Courtney Durrett voting yes but Rhonda Lee, Beeler, Carson Dailey and Larson Jay voting “No.”
The motion to approve passed 7-3 but Knox County Deputy Law Director Mike Moyers said although it passed the same issue will be back on the agenda at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
The opinions of the junior commissioners, honorable members who sat in on the work session beside their commission sponsors, varied. Anand Patel told the meeting that 19-year-olds are more mature and it was a choice between quality and quantity. Gabriela Sanches Bentiez questioned the trauma on young minds and asked about resources to deal with trauma. Ethan Coffey asked about the flexibility of working hours for correctional officers.