'We're supposed to be safe,' Harris County Jail employees say conditions are worsening
HOUSTON - Some employees in the Harris County Jail say they fear unsafe working conditions will get worse before getting better.
The workers I spoke with say, although a sergeant was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten by an inmate just last Monday at the jail and this Monday two detention officers were attacked, they say they don’t feel they're being heard regarding just how dangerous it is inside the Harris County Jail.
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One employee whose identity we’re concealing knows what it’s like to witness an inmate out of control.
"Your heart drops. It drops because no one was around to hear me screaming," says the employee who has had recent close calls with inmates inside the Harris County Jail, including becoming the target of a purple band inmate, meaning he’s high risk and the inmate should be escorted by a deputy. "It was terrifying and to see there’s no detention officer in sight, and you’re running, and you’re screaming."
Investigators say Jeremiah Williams was also wearing a purple band but was walking alone from a jail Bible Study class last Monday when they say he went into a veteran deputy’s office and violently sexually and physically assaulted her.
"We’re supposed to be safe," says the jail worker. "Somebody should be watching at all times."
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"It has gotten very bad, very bad," says this Harris County Jail employee, whose identity is also being concealed and has worked at the jail more than a decade. "The atmosphere today is chaos. Most staff are afraid. The inmates feel they are in power. Complaints have fallen on deaf ears."
"It’s hard to be at a place where you start feeling like you’re not cared about," the employee added. "There was a respect from inmates before. There was a reverence. You can only do what you’re allowed to do and once they see things are lax they start behaving in that manor."
Morale is said to be low and fear is running high among employees in the Harris County Jail according to the workers. They say they fear for not only employees but also inmates. 19-year-old special needs inmate Fred Harris was stabbed and beaten to death in October inside the jail.
"Safety should be at all times the number one priority and that’s not what we see. I feel like it’s going to get worse. Unless something drastic is done to come in and change the entire system," says one worker and the other employee adds "Leadership has to change. It can’t continue to be the same way. People are losing their lives, they’re getting beat up. We care about the inmates and the employees".
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Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has recently said leadership is looking to make significant safety changes.
So did the two workers I spoke with ever think they would say these words 'I'm scared to go to work’?
"10 years ago? No. 6 years ago? No, but today… Absolutely," one of the workers said. "We never believed it could get this bad."
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The employees say now it feels like an accomplishment simply to end a workday unharmed.
"Thank God I made it through another day. I say that every, every single day."
These workers say they would like leadership to ask employees for input regarding updating safety protocols, and they say they want those changes implemented immediately.
"I hope someone hears us, and we get help," says the jail worker.