Detention Officers Protest Mandated Overtime

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Protester hold signs on steps. | Image by NBC 5

Dallas County Jail detention officers held a protest on Tuesday as a demonstration against staff shortages and mandated overtime.  

In statements originally obtained by NBCDFW, the aggrieved officers complained that the shortage of staff and mandated overtime increases the risk of COVID-19 for employees and the public. They said that while working at the jail had always been a challenge, the shortage of staff poses a more significant threat to the community in the face of the pandemic. 

One of them, Detention Officer Lessia Gray, who has worked at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, stated that she and her colleagues cannot continue to work three to four days of overtime. “We just want to let everybody know we’re doing our jobs, but we’re not robots,” she said. “We can’t continue to work three to four days of overtime,” she continued. 

“No one wants to work in these conditions. We all like to go home and be with our families,” Detention Officer Markedra Benson said.  

Several demonstrators hid their faces due to fear of retaliation from their supervisors. According to Detention Officer Emmanuel Lewis, the department forbids employees from saying anything to the public without prior approval from superiors. 

As of Monday, the inmate count at the Dallas County Jail was 5,976. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jail population was reduced for social distancing. Now, that practice has stopped.

According to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who watches the jail for the Commissioners Court, one of the causes of the high population at the prison are the delays in accepting inmates at state prisons and state hospitals due to the coronavirus. Price didn’t blame it all on the pandemic, as he pointed out a slight difference between the number of officers who went on leave due to the COVID-19 quarantine and the ones who went on leave before the pandemic. 

Sheriff Marian Brown issued a statement saying, “Managing the county jail requires adherence to state regulatory staffing numbers. 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.” The statement also said that the department does not keep records on what percentage of staff and inmates have been vaccinated but that all three Pfizer vaccines have been offered to inmates. 

While the protestors claimed that two Dallas County detention officers died of coronavirus in August, the Sheriff’s Department said that only one of the deaths was confirmed to be COVID-19. 

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