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Incarcerated Texans asked to work in county morgue as COVID-19 deaths overwhelm El Paso

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EL PASO, Tex. – El Paso County detention inmates, also known as “trustees” who are low-level offenders, help move bodies to mobile morgue units outside the Medical Examiner’s Office in El Paso on Nov. 14, 2020. Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

The morgue in El Paso is so overwhelmed by the number of people dying from COVID-19, that inmates from the county’s detention facility are being brought in to assist with the overflow of bodies awaiting autopsy.

While the work these inmates do in the community typically goes unpaid, Chris Acosta, a spokesperson for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, said “trustees refused to work unless they were compensated.” They’re making $2 per hour.

Between four and eight inmates from the detention facility’s trustee program are volunteering daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The inmates doing the work are misdemeanor offenders and those in minimum custody. The shifts started Monday, Acosta said.

Acosta said she couldn’t speak to the exact nature of the work the inmates are doing at the morgues, but she said that the inmates, one deputy and two detention officers are given personal protective equipment and are required to wear it.

Images and video show the trustees moving bodies to the eight, soon-to-be 10, mobile morgues set up outside the medical examiner’s office.

It’s a temporary assignment, Acosta said, while the county awaits the arrival of the National Guard.

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