The lawsuit claims that the jail is so understaffed deputies frequently have to soil their pants or urinate in trash cans to complete their rounds.
A group of deputies at the Harris County Jail have filed a federal lawsuit alleging inhumane working conditions.
According to The Houston Chronicle, the proposed class-action targets the county, its five commissioners, and its sheriff, Ed Gonzalez.
Harris County Deputies’ Organization President David Cuevas said that employees are working extreme hours and mandatory overtime, putting themselves and inmates at risk.
“There’s so many knives and shanks that have been discovered, it’s incredible that there’s not more prisoners that have died and more employees that have not been stabbed,” Cuevas said, adding that the issue goes beyond jail.
“They’re now requiring our patrol deputies to help supplement our jails,” he said. “That is creating a further violent risk out in the community.”
Robin McIlhenny Foster, an attorney for the Harris County Deputies’ Organization FOP 39, said the jail is dangerously under-staffed. Employees have allegedly been so over-burdened that they cannot even take bathroom breaks, leading some workers to soil their pants and urinate in trash cans.
“They have knowingly underfunded the jail,” McIlhenny Foster said of the county, adding that deputies are not looking for a pay raise. Instead, they want federal oversight and better compliance with state and federal jail standards.
However, Sheriff Gonzalez attributed partial blame to the pandemic, saying the coronavirus has placed an “unyielding and unprecedented” strain on the criminal justice system.
“I am grateful to all our teammates for consistently performing their duties under the toughest circumstances we’ve ever experienced,” he said. “Everyone with a stake in ensuring Harris County public safety recognizes that our current trajectory is unsustainable.
“We all understand we must do more to reduce violent crime, address the backlog of cases in our courts and improve the working conditions of our dedicated public servants,” Gonzalez added. “As sheriff, I am committed to working with all partners on solutions that keep us safe.”
Nonetheless, Cuevas says that Harris County needs at least 500 additional deputies and detention officers.
“This didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “But it’s been manifesting and brewing over the last few years, and the current court is not addressing the issue.”
But County Commissioner and Judge Linda Hidalgo, while acknowledging that over-crowding is an issue, said the lawsuit is politically motivated.
“[The lawsuit] was filed with the press before it was filed with the court,” she said. “So it just tells you it was a stunt-y political thing.”
Still, the lawsuit makes a simple set of requests: sufficient funding, better staffing, and a mandate that Harris County Jail implement “reasonable policies, procedures, and practices,” like bathroom breaks.