TRENTON - The state Civil Service Commission has approved a hiring change intended to address "a dire need" for corrections officers at Camden County Jail.
In approving for the immediate hiring of temporary officers, the commission noted the jail had 196 officers at the time of the county's request — 116 fewer than its required 312 positions.
"Camden County explains that the staffing shortage has exhausted the existing officers and is having an impact on morale," its decision said.
"According to the majority of its exit interviews, the officers are resigning or retiring due to the constant need for overtime due to the shortage of staff," it continued.
"Moreover, the remaining officers are stressed from being forced to work mandatory overtime and getting less rest in between shifts," it said.
The ruling gives the Camden jail a head start on a state law, scheduled to take effect July 18, that allows an alternative process for hiring entry-level law enforcement officers.
The measure exempts applicants from a requirement to take a competitive exam for starting positions as corrections, police or sheriff's officers.
“It’s a huge, huge win for us and for people in public safety all over,” Camden County Commissioner Jonathan Young Sr., said Wednesday. "This gives us the advantage to hire quickly and to fill the needs that we have."
"It's an opportunity for us to do our own hiring, to be in the community and to do job fairs,” added Karen Taylor, the jail's warden.
She noted her concerns over the jail's staffing were heightened by the potential retirement of some 50 officers in the near future.
The county has added at least 15 officers since the commission's decision earlier this month, according to Young.
The new officers must complete a police-training course within nine months of their hiring date. They then would need to successfully complete a 12-month working test period in the jail.
"The only thing that changes is the process of getting them in the door,” said Young.
“We will still send individuals through the entire hiring process” said Taylor. That process includes physical and psychological tests, as well as background checks.,
The change will not affect the officers' civil service protections or union membership, according to Young.
Taylor said correctional facilities across the state were hampered by the requirement that entry-level applicants be among top performers on Civil Service exams.
“Just because you scored well on the test does not make you a good corrections officer,” said Taylor. “Meanwhile, I’d never get to the guy who’s not a good test-taker but would still be a good officer."
She also noted tests can be scheduled years apart, so people who miss one face long wait for another opportunity.
“The list that is active now is pretty much other counties,” Taylor added. “A person from North Jersey is not coming to Camden County for an entry-level position.”
In its decision, the commission noted the Camden jail was able to hire only seven officers out of 1,000 test-taking "eligibles" on Civil Service lists in April and September 2021.
"It's not just Camden County. Everybody is having difficulties," said Taylor, who noted the pending law was passed after a push by wardens from across the state, the New Jersey Association of Counties and others.
The law's sponsors included two South Jersey legislators, state Sen. Troy Singleton of Burlington County and Assemblyman William Moen Jr. of Camden County.
"It was just great teamwork," said Taylor. "We advocated very hard for this."