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I-Team: Correction Officers Union Says Half Of Members Can't Prove Vaccination Before Mandate Deadline

BOSTON (CBS) - Getting a prison under control requires the kind of training that correction officers say National Guard personnel do not have.

Kevin Flanagan, the legislative liaison for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union tells WBZ-TV's I-Team, "with all due respect to the men and women of the National Guard, we have highly trained correction officers who have worked throughout the pandemic for 18 months and to now say 50 percent would be terminated it's not right, it's not fair."

On Tuesday, anticipating a number of correction officers would fail to meet the October 17 deadline for mandatory vaccination, Governor Charlie Baker activated 250 troops to help staff potential shortages at state prisons.

Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) sits on the public safety committee and is very involved with prison reform. Eldridge says it is pretty scary putting the military into prisons.

"It could be for many, many months and that's very concerning," said Eldridge. "Correction officers play such a critical role ensuring there is safety in our prisons."

The union tells the I-Team approximately half of all correction officers or more than 1,500 have not provided proof of vaccine to the state. And many of those who have requested an exemption have yet to have hearings.

Looking to stop the firing process, the union is heading to federal court. Corey Scadifi is the executive secretary for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union. He said the governor should halt the mandate and work out details.

"We don't want to see militarization of our prisons, we don't want to see 1,500 of our members fired. We don't think that the state is prepared for the impacts that this is going to have inside the prison system," Scadifi said. "We're looking for a pause so we can work out some of these details."

The state says the National Guard will start training this week but will not be inside the prisons, rather they will be providing transportation and outside security.

But long term, potentially losing half of all correction officers working in state prisons is a concern for Eldridge.

"Correction officers again playing that critical role, really need to rethink, for a lot of them, their resistance to getting vaccinated," Eldridge said. "And that's the only solution to get out of what is approaching to be a crisis in Massachusetts."

The Department of Corrections says the governor's order for the National Guard does not have an end date and will continue as long as needed. The department also says it has the ability to move other staff into the prisons, bring back retired correction officers and has an academy class scheduled for January.

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