California is depending on inmates to fight wildfires, but now they’re running out
California state is using inmates to fight the raging wildfires. In fact, one-third of Cali’s wildfire fighting personnel are prisoners.
That’s a lot to think about as collectively they work an average of around 10 million hours a year saving taxpayers $100 million a year. All those tax dollars saved, otherwise, would’ve been spent on “actual firefighters.”
How is Cali saving bread on convict firefighters? Each firefighting felon is making roughly around $1.00 an hour when they’re actively fighting fires, and $2.00 a day when they aren’t, according to a recent article from The Atlantic.
They are the ones on the front lines working 24-hour shifts being paid less than a tenth the wages of even their lowest-paid civilian counterparts. Plus, they receive no pensions, workers’ compensation or promise of future employment.
These aren’t the firefighters that little kids dream to be either. The firefighting inmates aren’t the ones in the trucks or in the helicopters dousing flames with hoses or giant buckets of water.
They are the ones taking the highest risk when fighting dangerous flames, cutting firebreaks and redirecting advancing blazes. Only strapped with chainsaws and hand tools for protection.
Two firefighting inmates died this year and you probably didn’t hear about it. According to the LA Times and the San Diego Tribune, 26-year-old Matthew Beck was crushed by a falling tree.Then 22-year-old Frank Anaya was fatally wounded by a chainsaw.
This is what Conservation (Fire) Camps are:
So if there is no promise of future employment once the inmates are released, pension, or workers’ compensation, why are inmates committing to sacrificing their lives in these wildfires? Besides earning a dollar an hour while they are fighting wildfires, inmates also receive credit for early parole.
This only includes men and women who have passed a physical and medical assessment, conform to the rules of “good behavior” while they are incarcerated, and those serving in minimum-custody facilities.
If you are serving a minimum custody sentence and have any history of sexual offenses, arson, or escape with force or violence, you are ineligible to serve as an inmate firefighter.
This is all according to the CDCR, which manages the Conservation (Fire) Camp programs. To be exact, the conservation camps, which are located in 29 counties, can house up to 4,522 adult inmates and 80 juveniles.
A week ago I was hiking McCall Equestrian Park with this Inmate from the Bautista Cal-Fire crew in Hemet. He was polite, eager to learn, and motivated to get the job done right. We hiked alone for almost a mile and not once did he make me feel uncomfortable. We had plans to meet again this week but instead he is somewhere fighting on the front lines. It makes me sad to say I don’t know his name but I hope to change that soon. Sending positive vibes to everyone affected and fighting these devastating fires ✌🏽 #calfire #cawildfires #bautista #concrew #cdcr
This makes up approximately 219 fire-fighting crews. A typical camp houses five, 17-member fire-fighting crews as well as inmates who provide support services. Each camp costs around $2.35 million to operate annually.
Inmates have been fighting wildfires in Cali since the 1940s due to a lack of men who were overseas fighting in WWII. Now they are still fighting fires to cut government spending, taxes, and prison populations?
The worrisome thought about this is that there has become a reliance on inmates fighting Californian wildfires.
So much so that because of prison reform that placed non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders out of state prisons, officials and voters could choose to implement more reforms to up incarcerated firefighters.
If not they run a chance of running out of inmates to protect Calfornia from major disasters, like uncontrollable wildfires.
I’m hoping we can stop relying on “indentured servitude” and pay firefighters to actually fight the fires.
Here’s some food for thought. In an interview with Think Progress, California State Senator Kamala Harris said,
“The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servants is one of the worst possible perceptions… I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”
Not a good look.