Wednesday, August 14, 1996

STATE PRISON INMATES JOIN BATTLE AGAINST FIRES

More than 2,100 orange-suited California prison inmates are working side-by-side with other fire crews battling the numerous fires raging throughout the state.

Inmates from 138 crews from 36 of the state's 38 conservation camps are clearing fire lines on 15 separate fires. The 2,194 inmates and 142 staff from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) are assigned to fires in 21 counties, from Modoc in the north to Riverside in the south. They will remain on the fires until they are fully contained and will then be deployed to another fire.

The inmates are normally assigned to the conservation camps, or minimum security prisons, located in rural areas. The Camps house almost 4,000 inmates and are jointly operated by CDC and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. (CDF).

CDC oversees camp security and operations; its staff provides the necessary security while inmates are on the fire line. CDF provides fire fighting training and supervises inmate firefighting efforts.

Inmates serve their sentences at conservation camps after passing a highly selective screening process and a rigorous firefighting training regime. A typical firefighting inmate was convicted of a nonviolent offense, has an average sentence of two years and will spend about eight months in camp before parole.

When not fighting fires, inmates are dispatched to other emergency and non-emergency tasks including earthquake response, flood control, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal.

During an average fire season, inmates work up to two million hours in fire prevention and firefighting response. They are paid $1.00 an hour on the fire lines and from $1.45 to $3.90 a day for non-emergency work.

It is estimated that state and local government save more than $70 million that otherwise would be paid to accomplish the work inmates perform.