KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The Knox County Sheriff's Office said they're facing a significant staffing shortage at the jail. Out of 312 positions, there are 93 to fill. That means 30% of corrections positions are open. 

In 2021, Knox County lowered the age requirement from 21 to 19. Few 19-year-olds have been hired since. Only 26 applied in the last year and a half. 

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"Since September 2021 there have been 26 total applicants that were 19 or 20 years of age. That's not a large increase since reducing the minimum age requirement," Knox County Commissioner Kim Frazier said.

The sheriff's office is going one step further, hiring 18-year-olds as correctional officers. KCSO representatives made it clear it's a last resort. 

"We have exhausted everything we can do to get individuals in. We are continually recruiting. One group we haven't been able to reach out to are the ones just leaving high school... the 18-year-olds," Knox County Corrections Chief William Purvis said. 

Lowering the age requirement follows Tennessee state guidelines:

  • Must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Must have a high school diploma or GED.
  • Must be able to carry a firearm.
  • Must be of good moral character.
  • Must have no criminal record.
  • Must have a valid driver's license.

An applicant must pass a background and psychological evaluation. Fraizer said more than a third of the youngest age group fails. 

"19 have taken the physiological as of the present date. 12 of the 19 have passed, the other seven have failed the psych exam," Frazier said.

Former prison therapist Julius Jefferies said it's a stressful job. Correctional officers and jailers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

"If we're going to lower the age then we need to make sure we are getting those who can bare the responsibility in a way that is going to ensure they keep themselves safe and the inmates that they serve safe," Jefferies said. 

"You have a mandate to safeguard inmates and to a degree, a certain power over them, so you want to get individuals who have emotional maturity and also the responsibility to use that responsibility and not abuse it." 

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