Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Program for Prisoners Is Showing Tremendous Results

Are there rehabilitation programs for prisoners in California? There is certainly one rehabilitation program that is making a huge difference right now throughout California.  It’s a rehabilitation program that trains inmates to fight wildfires.

Prisoners are not the first people who ordinarily come to mind when we think of firefighters. But thousands of inmate firefighters have been on the frontlines fighting the wildfires that have been raging in California over the past few weeks. They have been trained through a special rehabilitation program jointly run by the California Department of Corrections, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). These state agencies operate 44 conservation camps that train low-risk inmates to fight fires and take on emergency assignments during floods and earthquakes.

The conservation camps, which grew from the first one that started operating in 1946,  house and train an estimated 4.300 prisoners and wards of the state.  During their firefighting training, these willing and able-bodied inmates get 64 hours of basic firefighting training and work five days a week. They remain on-call 24/7. Their pay? For putting their lives on the line to help with wildfires and other natural emergencies, they are paid $1.00 an hour. On the high side,  the inmates can earn between $1.45 and a little less than $4.00 an hour.

It is estimated that these inmate crews provide nearly 3 million firefighting hours annually. State correction officials say that their work saves California taxpayers about $80 million every year.  

It’s amazing to consider that thousands of firefighters, who are deployed throughout the state to fight the major wildfires that develop in California annually, are on loan from our state prisons. One California fire official called the inmate firefighters “absolutely invaluable.”