This is part two of a two-part Dallas Express exclusive article on the situation for Dallas County jailers that was pitched by a reader.
After working as a Dallas County jailer, Alexis Berry saw the impact of COVID-19 on correctional officers. The conditions at the local jail inspired her to publish a book about the stress correctional officers experience. Berry wrote Behind the Badge: 7 Keys for Correctional Officers to Reduce Stress and Preserve Mental Health.
She told The Dallas Express that her goal was to bring awareness to the lack of mental health services available to potential jail employees and show current jailers how to cope with the stress of the job.
Berry became a student of mental health and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Studies at the University of North Texas (UNT). She claims mental health was a significant problem at the Dallas County jail.
“A lot of officers have mental health issues, but they do not like to talk about it,” Berry said. She added that wardens do not bring up stress or mental health either.
Berry said some stressors include seeing deaths, suicides, and officer fights in the jail. Officers can manifest this stress by lashing out angrily and emotionally, even threatening to walk off the job.
The stressors of working at the jail were compounded by a lack of staffing, the former jailers confirmed. Emmanuel Lewis and Alexis Berry reported to The Dallas Express that the 16-hour days were common during their employment.
Lewis said he would work at least three to five 16-hour shifts a week. Berry said she would work three per week.
The Dallas Express asked the author how she dealt with the stress of the job. For her, it was all about finding a way to decompress.
Jailers she spoke with said it was all about the job; they would work, go home, sleep, and go back to work. She said “getting out” and “being active” could help officers to unwind and relax and reduce the stress of the job.
Another aspect that Berry wants to see addressed is the time spent training employees on dealing with the job’s mental health burden. Hours of training, she said, are devoted to inmates’ mental health, and the jail system has invested resources in caring for inmates with mental health issues. Still, little attention is given to the mental health of officers.
“Even before the academy, I think they should take the time to teach officers about mental health,” Berry said.
In a conversation with Commissioner Koch, The Dallas Express asked him his thoughts on the current state of the jail. Koch said he feels the Dallas County Jail may have outlived its usefulness, and the time for a new facility may need to come sooner rather than later.
Due to advancements in law enforcement technology and techniques, a new facility could operate with reduced capacity, reducing the need to hire more officers and possibly alleviating the understaffing issue. Koch said that discussions had not taken place regarding a new facility yet, but it is something they should be looking into moving forward.
Another issue Berry brought up related to staffing was that she saw some officers working the jail floor before they went through any training. She said some officers hit the floor on day one.
Koch told us he was unaware of that happening and said that it needs to be addressed if that is the case.
“It’s certainly not ideal,” Koch said.
The Dallas Express also contacted the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, County Judge Clay Jenkins, and Commissioner John Wiley Price for comment. Neither returned requests for comment.
If Jenkins is not talking about the jail, his opponent for Dallas County Judge, Lauren Davis is. Jenkins, she said, continues to fail the citizens of Dallas County.
“His lack of leadership in the most basic functions of county government are literally costing lives in the county jail. Failed inspections, unhappy employees, and suicides on his watch would be cause for immediate termination of the Chief Executive of any private business,” she told the Dallas Express.
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