National Guard Called in to Help Run Indiana State Prisons
Back in May 2020, as COVID-19 infected the nation’s prisons, the National Guard was brought in to help IDOC with detection and treatment of COVID-19 in state prisons. It was an effort to stay ahead of the game, or at least keep up with the wildfire spread of the disease. But things got out of hand and the National Guard switched from medical workers to actually running the prisons.
At first, teams of four National Guard members were deployed to Plainfield, Pendleton, and Westville Correctional Facilities. They expected to be there until the end of May, maybe a few weeks. Members with experience as EMTs, firefighters, and other health-care background were selected to bolster IDOC’s medical staff.
“These medical professional quickly augmented the governor’s efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in correctional facilities during this public health crisis,” the National Guard’s website said about its work in state prisons.
By August 2020, entire National Guard units were deployed to operate some of IDOC’s prisons. When staff members at Miami Correctional Facility in Bunker Hill became sick with COVID-19, National Guard units took over working control pods in the prisons. According to IDOC spokesman James Frye, the National Guard has no direct contact with the prisoners.
What began as four-person teams quickly turned into hundreds of National Guard members operating in Pendleton, Miami, and Westville prisons. The IDOC would not confirm those numbers, but said in a news release that “while other businesses may be able to operate with a reduction in their workforce, the unique duties performed by correctional staff must continue with proper staffing levels.”
Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain said he’s not surprised that IDOC had to call in the National Guard. “I spoke with my jail commander and neither of us can recall a time when this kind of remedy to staffing shortage has occurred,” he said.
He also said that federal lawsuits either brought by or threatened by state prisoners alleging improper medical care might have prompted IDOC to seek outside help.