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Tarrant County aims to reduce jail population while trying to hire hundreds of detention officers

Sheriff Bill Waybourn speaks at a podium in front of a White House sign and American flag.
Andrew Harnik
Associated Press
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn speaks in the Briefing Room at the White House in 2019. Waybourn said he's optimistic about the county's effort to recruit detention officers.

Tarrant County officials are looking for ways to reduce the jail population as the sheriff’s office tries to solve a “staffing crisis” in the jail.

The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office has more than 200 open detention officer jobs, and jailers are working 50-plus hour weeks to make up for it, according to county documents. At the same time, the jail population has risen to a daily average of 4,700 people, Sheriff Bill Waybourn said Tuesday. The jail system can hold about 5,000 people.

While the Sheriff’s Office works on recruitment, county officials want to prevent people from entering the jail at all. Tarrant County will push for more cities to use video magistration, which allows people in city jails to go to their first court appearances virtually.

If those arrested are offered bail, they can pay and leave without ever entering the county jail, County Administrator G.K. Maenius said.

“Which means 15 inmates a day are out, without coming into our system,” he said.

Video magistration is already an option, but not all local police departments take advantage of it. Half of the people Arlington arrests never go to the county jail, because they go through video magistration, Maenius said.

“We’re going to get to a point where we will probably not accept inmates that have not been video magistrated,” Maenius said.

There is still more the county can do to reduce the jail population, said Commissioner Alisa Simmons, who represents southeast Tarrant County. People who are only incarcerated because they can’t pay low bail amounts, $500 or less, don’t need to be taking up beds, she said.

Detention officer recruitment efforts have already made progress, Waybourn said. Earlier this month, county commissioners approved a $37,485 contract with a recruitment firm to fill open positions. In July, the county also started offering a $5,000 recruitment bonus for a select number of new detention officers and 911 dispatchers.

“We’re very optimistic about the recruitment and finding good people. We will not sacrifice our standards,” Waybourn said.

Detention officers’ pay starts at $24 an hour, according to the county website. That’s a yearly salary of almost $50,000, assuming a 40-hour workweek.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.