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Bill would prohibit teen correctional officers in prisons

March 02, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Teenagers could no longer work as correctional officers in Maryland's prisons under a bill proposed by a state delegate.

Del. Charles E. Barkley, D-Montgomery, has proposed raising the minimum age for officers from 18 years old to 21 years old.

If the bill is approved, the minimum age would return to the level it was before the state dropped it to 18 in 2002. At the time, Maryland was having trouble recruiting officers to fill vacancies.

A fiscal note on the bill says it would not have a large effect on the prison work force. Out of 4,881 state correctional officers, 173 are younger than 21, the note says.

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Sheila Hill, a correctional officer at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Md., spoke Thursday in favor of the higher minimum age. She told the House Judiciary Committee that it's hard for an 18-year-old officer to "draw the line" when supervising 18-year-old inmates.

"They don't have the life skills to deal with career criminals," she said during an interview after the hearing.

Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne's, proposed an amendment to allow people younger than 21 who have been honorably discharged from military service to be correctional officers.

But Del. Christopher B. Shank, a bill co-sponsor, said military service might not transfer well to working in a prison, where correctional officers don't carry guns.

Shank, a Republican, represents Washington County, which has three state prisons.

Smigiel, though, said his U.S. Marine Corps training helped him work, without a weapon, at a facility for criminally insane people.

The Judiciary Committee rejected a similar bill last year.

On the Web at http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/hb0910.htm

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