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Indybay Feature
Thousands of Prisoner Firefighters Combating Wildfires in California Today
by Dave Id
Wednesday Nov 14th, 2018 6:45 PM
Among those brave enough to combat fires by taking on such dangerous duties as creating containment lines in hot zones are thousands of people enslaved by the prison industrial complex. For instance, two hundred are involved with fighting the ongoing Camp Fire. The California Department of Corrections seems proud that this past summer 58 of them were kids.
[Statewide Fire Map: 19 Separate Wildfires in California. Of the 19 fires currently burning, 4 are contained.]

Prisoners are paid $2 a day, and $1 an hour when fighting an active fire. The CDCR touts that the program saves the state between $90 and $100 million a year. Not surprising that free labor saves California money. And the state is increasingly relying on prisoners during fire season. (Interview with incarcerated firefighter.)

Thousands of California inmates not only risk their lives to fight fires but for their very own freedom. In addition to the pittance they are paid, firefighters earn time off of their sentences. Anyone doubting the dangers prisoners face in order to have their time behind bars reduced should know that, in 2017, two inmates died in the line of duty, along with one civilian wildland-firefighter.

Firefighting prisoners live in "conservation camps." The CDCR, in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LAC FIRE), jointly operates 44 conservation camps, commonly known as fire camps, located in 27 counties. Overall, there are around 3,700 inmates working at fire camps currently. Approximately 2,600 of those are fire line-qualified inmates.

Should these inmates seek work as a professional (paid) firefighter after release, they are denied the opportunity due to their criminal record.

More 2018 fire coverage on Indybay:

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