Monday, December 28, 2020

Ohio National Guard deployed to state prisons to replace guards

Ohio National Guard members covering shifts for COVID-positive guards in state prisons are receiving just a single day of formal training before interacting with prisoners—a fraction of the training for regular corrections officers. And some are using force even with so little training, reported The Marshall Project.

State officials defended the guard members’ training as meant to supplement their military preparation, which includes skills like de-escalating conflict. But David J. Carey, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Ohio, said it was “disturbing” that people were being placed into “that kind of a sensitive role, with a great deal of power, without being properly trained.” Likewise, two guard members who spoke with The Marshall Project said they’re feeling underprepared for the job.

“We had basically no training, we really just kind of got thrown into the fire,” one guard member said. The soldiers spoke about their deployment on the condition of anonymity, fearing sanctions for speaking outside of the chain of command. The Marshall Project confirmed the facts of their accounts about the training with state agencies.

The guard members’ concerns come as several states have used the National Guard to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons. Mostly, states have limited those deployments to monitoring prisoners’ health, delivering medicine and food, or patrolling outside prisons. Ohio, however, announced earlier this month that its National Guard would guard prisoners directly to address a shortage of correction officers caused by the pandemic. More than 700 Ohio correctional employees are positive for the virus now, part of more than 3,400 who have tested positive since the start of the pandemic.

The Marshall Project contacted several states that have announced they’re using guard members, and of those that responded only Ohio said its soldiers are working security duty inside prisons. The Ohio guard members, who are wearing military fatigues in the prisons, said they have been told to expect to be deployed through February.

Typically a corrections officer in Ohio receives 40 hours of orientation training and 160 hours of classroom and physical skills training—or about 5 weeks of instruction—along with another two weeks of on-the-job training, the state said.

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