The Bureau of Prisons is temporarily allowing candidates as old as 40 to apply for corrections jobs to meet its recruiting needs.

In a policy statement, the bureau said it granted waivers to raise the maximum entry age to 40 from 37 for correctional officers across pay grades and federal facilities. The policy is in effect for fiscal 2024, which began Oct. 1 and ends next September.

“Appropriately filling positions throughout the [BOP] is a top priority for the well-being of our dedicated employees and the safety of those in our care,” the agency said in the statement, issued last month. “Through recruitment and retention incentives, by modernizing our recruitment strategies, and by increasing employee training we are beginning to see some improvement.”

Since the bureau came under a new director in 2022, staffing of its 122 facilities has been a pressing challenge. In October, law enforcement staff at eight prisons were approved for retention bonuses to help improve retention in an environment that unions representing workers say has been fraught with instability and safety issues. The Associated Press found nearly a third of federal correctional officer positions were vacant in 2021, and staffing overall has dropped 20% in the last seven years.

The move to temporarily raise age requirements for new law enforcement hires could help expand the number of eligible candidates who apply to the bureau.

Age limits for certain occupations are enforced by several federal civilian agencies to help maintain “a young and vigorous workforce of individuals appointed to physically arduous law enforcement officer positions,” according to 2019 policy by the Justice Department.

So, too, do law enforcement positions come with a “forced” retirement age of 57 years, barring certain exceptions that. At the bureau, after 20 years of service, retirement eligibility is met at age 50. With 25 years of service, officers may retire at any age under the Federal Employees Retirement System.

In 2017, the vast majority of bureau officers filed for application before the mandatory retirement age, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

That same year, more than 100,000 officers were employed by federal executive branch agencies, mostly at the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. Around 3% were older than 57.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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