Wednesday, October 20

Dallas jail officers say they’re working 16-hour shifts for days in a row because of a labor shortage

  • Officers at Dallas County Jail say they worked 16-hour shifts for days in a row because of understaffing.
  • An official told NBC DFW the jail sometimes mandated overtime to meet state staffing regulations.
  • Officers said the jail was struggling to find replacements after some staff quit.

Officers at Dallas County Jail say short-staffing has sometimes forced them to work 16-hour shifts multiple days in a row, according to reports by NBC DFW and The Dallas Observer.

At a protest on Tuesday, officers said that some members of staff had quit their jobs and that the jail was struggling to find replacements, per the reports.

Some officers said they were being mandated to work two standard eight-hour shifts in a row for up to five days straight because of these staffing shortages, per The Observer.

The officers said they sometimes only found out they had to stay for a second shift less than half an hour before the first one finished, The Observer reported.

Under state regulations, the jail needs one on-duty detention officer for every 48 inmates, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price told NBC DFW.

“We have to be in compliance and sometimes that means you have to be mandated if we don’t get enough volunteers,” Price said.

Dallas County Jail had 5,976 inmates as of Monday evening’s count, per NBC DFW.

Price said that up to 300 of the jail’s 1,450 detention officers had been on leave recently, more than usual, with some of them in quarantine. Pre-pandemic, this would usually be between 170 and 200, he said.

“I’m not going to lay it all on COVID,” Price told the news station. “Granted, it has been amplified because of COVID.”

Sheriff Marian Brown told the news station, “Currently, because we have vacancies, we must utilize overtime to remain in compliance.

“We continue to work to get to a point where overtime is not a necessity,” she said.

At Tuesday’s protest, some officers said the jail had been struggling to maintain staffing levels for years, but that it had come to a head during the pandemic, NBC DFW reported.

Emmanuel Lewis, an officer at the jail, told The Observer that jail staff had been quitting and retiring, but that “no new hires” were coming in.

The US is suffering from a huge labor shortage as people leave low-paying jobs for roles with better wages, benefits, and hours. Fear of catching the Delta variant is putting some people off taking in-person jobs, too.

Detention Officer Markedra Benson said that she caught the virus from working at the jail.

“I brought it home,” she told NBC DFW. “The inmates aren’t being made to wear masks, but we are.”

Benson said that “no one wants to work in these conditions.”

“We all like to go home and be with our families,” she said.

Texan correctional officers and jailers earn less than the national average, 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. Correctional officers and jailers make an average of $21.26 an hour, or $44,230 a year, compared to the national average of $25.16 an hour, or $52,340 a year.

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