Convicts serving time at the El Paso County Detention Facility have been recruited to assist with moving corpses into mobile morgues. The unusual step was reportedly taken after morgue personnel were overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to local media that four to eight inmates have been helping the Medical Examiner’s Office since last Monday. The work is voluntary and inmates are paid $2/hour during an eight-hour shift.
Videos posted on social media show inmates wearing personal protective equipment over their black-and-white striped prison jumpers as they wheel corpses into the back of a large refrigerated truck serving as a mobile morgue.
📍NEW: Chilling video of El Paso jail inmates hired to move bodies of #COVID19 deceased patients into mobile overflow morgues. Inmates wear full PPEs & paid $2/hour. They’ve been doing this tough work since Monday, before El Paso increased to 10 mobile morgues. I cry for El Paso. pic.twitter.com/KgQBpzD1mZ
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) November 15, 2020
The use of prison labor was supposed to be only temporary until the Texas National Guard could step in, but inmates continued to assist medical personnel over the weekend, according to reports.
Many Twitter users expressed disgust at the decision to hire inmates to move bodies, describing the situation as “modern-day slavery” and comparing Texas to a third-world country.
My God. Why are inmates being used for this? Is Texas third world or what?
— KA De Chick (@katmac205) November 15, 2020
Others argued that Texas shouldn’t be singled out, pointing to reports from March that inmates in Democrat-controlled New York State were paid $6/hour to dig mass graves.
El Paso County brought in 10 mobile morgues, but was using only half of them, according to officials. As of Saturday, 145 bodies were being held in the temporary facility.
Inmates are provided with full personal protective equipment while they work, according to a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, who also said the inmates are accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy and two jail detention officers.
Hospitalizations attributed to Covid-19 have increased nearly tenfold in El Paso since September, local media reported. Last week, Texas became the first US state to surpass a million Covid-19 cases.
Infections are also surging nationwide, with a million new cases reported over the past week. In total, the US has registered 11 million positive Covid-19 tests and more than 245,000 deaths. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the death toll could surpass 280,000 by early December.
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