El Paso Inmates Paid $2 an Hour to Transport Corpses of COVID-19 Victims

El Paso, Texas
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Inmates at a Texas prison are being paid $2 an hour to transport the bodies of COVID-19 victims to morgues. At least nine inmates started working on Monday, "100% voluntarily," to help move corpses, according to Chris Acosta, the Public Affairs Director of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. Their volunteer efforts are apparently relieving those who are overworked.

The inmates are "low-level offenders" who are provided "full PPE by the morgue/hospital," Acosta told CBS News. They work eight-hour shifts every day and are supervised by a sheriff's deputy and two detention officers. The bodies are being held in mobile and permanent housing provided by the medical examiner's office, the outlet reported.

"The inmates are there to lend a helping hand," El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told KVIA. "We're shorthanded. People are really tired; nurses and doctors are tired."

Since March, there have been a total of 75,000 infections in the county, according to health data. With the exception of two days in November, COVID cases have surged over 1,000 new cases per day, CNN reported.

Prison labor is common in the U.S. In fact, many prisons rely on inmates to perform for little or no pay. 

In five states, including Texas, regular inmates work for no pay. Prisoners today are paid less than they were in 2001, according to Prison Policy, a non-profit advocacy group. The average minimum daily wage for incarcerated inmates who work jobs outside of the prison is between 14 to 63 cents an hour.

The county recently requested help from the Texas National Guard, which means the inmates are likely to stop working, Acosta said.

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