HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The Horry County Sheriff’s Office says staffing numbers are on the rise thanks to a new law.

That law allowed states the option to lower the age requirement for correctional officers from 21 to 18.

The law went into effect in May 2022 after correctional facilities all over South Carolina dealt with staffing shortages. Deputies with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office said it’s been beneficial for keeping J. Reuben Long Detention Center fully staffed.

“Since it’s been in effect, we’ve hired 15 people under the age of 21,” Sheriff Phillip Thompson said. “And it’s been very successful.”

Thompson said they don’t hire everyone who applies, but the selection process, made up of interviews and tests is the same for everyone no matter their age.

He said one of his concerns was maturity, but he realized that’s dependent on the individual, not age. He said it helps those not going to college right now.

And for now 22-year-old Chesney Higginbotham, it was all a part of her dream.

“I wanted to be in the profession where you could protect,” she said. “I mean, you know, you fight and protect your country in the military, you fight and protect your people here.”

Higginbotham said after finding out about her medical disqualifier, she couldn’t join the military. But applying and getting this career opportunity has been an eye-opener for her.

“It does mentally mature you and it does prepare you for your future in law enforcement,” she said.

Thompson said correctional officers carry weapons and that training has expanded since the law went into effect.

The Horry County Sheriff’s Office added an officer-readiness assessment phase to their training in August 2022 to help officers inside the detention center.

“You have very close supervision,” Thompson said. “You’re in the same building, you’re in the same housing units, you have supervisors and you have experienced officers that have been there for periods of time readily accessible to you.”

Thompson said the law allows people to have a head start in their careers. He also said that just because they start at the detention center doesn’t mean they have to stay in corrections.

“They work their way through there and then work their way through the corps and then they go on the road as a deputy and throughout their career,” he said.

“Eventually later on into law enforcement I do want to go on the road and, you know, build up my career from there,” Higginbotham said.

Thompson said another benefit to this career is that the county council increased the salary for correctional officers about a year ago to $50,000 per year.

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Jackie LiBrizzi is a multimedia journalist at News13. Jackie is originally from Hamilton, New Jersey, and was raised in Piedmont, South Carolina. Jackie joined the News13 team in June 2023 after she graduated as a student-athlete from the University of South Carolina in May 2023. Follow Jackie on X, formerly Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and read more of her work here.