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Tarrant County paid $37,500 to recruit new detention officers. Three got hired, jail chief says

Charles Eckert, executive chief of the detention bureau, walks through the intake area Thursday, March 7, 2024, at the Tarrant County Corrections Center in Fort Worth.
Yfat Yossifor
Charles Eckert, executive chief of the detention bureau, walks through the intake area Thursday, March 7, 2024, at the Tarrant County Corrections Center in Fort Worth.

The Tarrant County jail system's staffing problems persist after a 90-day, $37,500 recruiting effort last year led to three hires, according to a top sheriff’s deputy.

The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office has described the jail’s staffing situation as a crisis.

Detention officers have been working overtime to make up for hundreds of open positions – a dangerous situation that can lead to stress, burnout and lack of proper supervision, according to experts.

In August, Tarrant County commissioners hired a recruitment firm to help fill some of those vacant jobs, but only three hires came out of it, said Charles Eckert, the executive chief deputy in charge of jail operations.

“We aren't using that anymore. It just wasn't effective. Why throw money at something that's not working?” Eckert told KERA News.

County Administrator Chandler Merritt wrote in a memo that nearly 200 detention officer positions remained open as of February. Jailers continue to work mandatory overtime – at least 52 hours a week, sometimes more, Eckert said.

And Eckert is far from the only jail or prison administrator dealing with understaffing.

"This isn't a Tarrant County problem. It's not a Texas problem. It's a nationwide problem," he said.

Detention jobs can be a hard sell - there’s the relatively low pay, persistent short-staffing and mandatory overtime – plus all the difficulties of working in a jail environment, said Michele Deitch, director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin.

“No one wants to work in a place where it's dangerous, or where the physical conditions are difficult for them, and where the job is not always satisfying,” Deitch said.

Mike Moore is the CEO of RCI, the recruiting company Tarrant County hired to look for potential jailers. Dallas-Fort Worth in particular gives people a lot of options for work, Moore said.

"It’s sitting in the middle of a very healthy economic area where there's very low unemployment, and there’s tons and tons and tons of choices for the candidate," Moore said.

Moore said his company created a big pipeline of potential candidates for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, but he declined to share how many job seekers were sent for consideration.

A photo of an SUV wrapped in an American flag print, with a golden logo that says TARRANT COUNTY SHERIFF RECRUITING.
Miranda Suarez
Charles Eckert, the executive chief in charge of jail operations for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, says the department will continue to wrap cars like this one to get the word out about detention officer positions.

Understaffing affects every part of a jail or prison, Deitch said. Without enough staff, there might not be enough supervision, which can lead to higher suicide rates among incarcerated people, Deitch said. Without enough officers to escort people out of their cells, people could spend more time locked up.

“That idleness leads to violence. It leads to tension,” Deitch said. “And it also means they're not getting access to their programs and services, which could affect their likelihood of successful rehabilitation.”

Texas jailers are also leaving their jobs at high rates.

According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, in 2023, the turnover rate for licensed jailers was 35%, a number Deitch called “incredibly bad.”

In Tarrant County, COVID-19 caused a lot of departures the jail is still recovering from, Eckert said. During the early pandemic, 15 or 20 jailers might leave each month, he remembered.

“That could be [that] a lot of people retired. They were eligible to retire, and they're like, I'm not dealing with this," he said.

Both Eckert and Deitch offered a solution: Reduce the jail population. For example, offer more diversion programs to keep people with mental illness out of jail for low-level crimes – something Tarrant County does.

“Any time that you can get the count down, that gives the people inside some breathing room," said Gary F. Cornelius, a corrections trainer and author who worked in jails in Fairfax County, Va.

Cornelius would also like to see a shift in the way corrections officers are trained, he said. There should be more emphasis on ways officers can encourage and help incarcerated people. When he worked in Fairfax County’s jail programs division, he helped people sign up for GED courses behind bars, or substance abuse programs, he said.

“If we had that going through the academies, the training and the supervision, I think people would feel better about the job, and maybe they would stay," Cornelius said.

The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office is trying to make sure jailers get rest when they need it, Eckert said. People can get a reprieve from mandatory overtime and work a normal 40 hours to recharge “and get back in touch with reality,” he said.

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