Across the country, jails and prisons have been facing ongoing staffing shortages. Carceral staff turnover rates are incredibly high, and with our nation’s incarcerated population seeing an increase of 500 percent over the last 40 years, staff retention is becoming a priority.
These staffing shortages are being felt deeply throughout the nation, with one county in Texas finally taking action to do something about.
In August, the Denton County Commissioners Court voted in favor of giving all Denton County Sheriff’s Department employees a 14% raise, with an additional 14% to be given during the next fiscal year. This is a huge win for Denton County and for the sheriff's department. Citizens took a stand for better working conditions and a fair wage, and made a difference.
The vote comes after sheriff’s department employees, citizens in the community, and members of Denton County Citizens Defending Freedom have spoken up about the dire situation the county jail is facing. Staff within the jail are leaving in droves, and Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree states that many are leaving and obtaining employment at the popular gas station chain, Buc-ee’s.
“They’re there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Murphree said, “We have shifts working all night long and when you go to somewhere and make the same or more money and not have to work deep nights and put up with what those men and women have to put up with, it’s understandable.”
Conditions at the detention center, according to an individual closely associated with the inner workings of the center, have become dangerous. “Detention officers are working a mandatory 60 hours a week and have been doing this going on three years.” Those officers endure repeated exposure to meningitis and other dangerous diseases, inmates rubbing feces on themselves, the walls, and throwing it on others, as well as verbal and physical threats, and actual physical violence.
The situation with staffing has led to other employees of the sheriff’s department, such as patrol and warrant deputies, taking shifts to assist the jail. This has led to a shortage of officers on duty to help the community with local emergencies. “Denton County officers are stressed, drained and ready to quit,” the letter continues. “Every time an officer leaves, it creates even more stress on those who are left behind.”
Melinda Preston, Executive Director for Denton County Citizens Defending Freedom, went before the Commissioners Court in June to read the concerning letter to the members of the court, and citizens at large. “We’ve got to pay these people what they are worth. We’ve got to keep them in our system. We need to give them a reason to want to come to work.”
We are happy that her words did not fall on deaf ears.
“Citizens took a stand for better working conditions and fair wages, and made a difference.” Melinda stated after the vote passed. “We are incredibly thankful that the commissioners court listened. Let's keep law enforcement where they want to be: in our cities to protect our citizens.”