Mo. Guard to train inmates to help in disasters

The Missouri National Guard plans to start training some of the state’s prison inmates to help it during natural disasters and other emergencies.

Missouri Guard spokeswoman Maj. Tammy Spicer said Thursday that under the proposal, the prison inmates would become a more formalized part of the guard’s disaster response. She said it would give the guard a larger and better trained pool of workers to respond to emergencies. The training would focus on skills such as filling and stacking sandbags and removing debris.

“We’re trying to do something better for Missourians,” Spicer said.

Prison inmates already have been used in the past to help local officials during floods and other emergencies. Over the past several years, prison inmates have worked with volunteers and others to shore up levies and fill sandbags along flooding rivers from near St. Louis to northwestern Missouri.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Nixon allowed 37 inmates from a prison in St. Joseph to help stack sandbags along Interstate 29 near Craig to protect the highway from a flooded Missouri River. In 2008, nearly 150 inmates from prisons across the state were among those fortifying levees near the Mississippi River in northeastern Missouri. And in 2007, prison inmates and the National Guard worked to protect from flood water, a water treatment plant, schools and an ethanol plant near Craig.

Spicer said formal agreements between the Missouri Guard and the state Department of Corrections have not yet been signed. It was not known how many inmates could participate or how much the training would cost.

The National Guard said the inmates who participate in the training could not be convicted of violent offenses and would be need to be eligible for the Department of Corrections work release program.

The Department of Corrections said the requirements to be eligible for work release include having 5 years or less left on their sentence and having no escape attempts or convictions for offenses such as rape, kidnapping and robbery. Prison officials also examine the inmates’ mental health and the possible risk they pose to the public.

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