Thursday, January 2, 1997


More than 500 inmate crew members and staff from the California Department of Corrections have been dispatched to help battle flooding in eight northern and central California counties.

About 520 inmates are filling and loading sandbags, cooking for evacuees at the emergency shelter at Marysville Community College, and providing assistance to other agencies where needed. Crews are being supervised by 31 correctional officers.

On Wednesday, crews helped set up 300 beds at the evacuation center in Orland in Butte County.

Crews sandbagged all night at Hamilton City where flood waters are threatening the town. Residents have been evacuated but the crews remain on standby.

Inmates at the Marysville Community College expect to cook for more than 450 rescue workers and other involved in fighting the floods.

The inmates are normally assigned to the conservation camps, or minimum security prisons, located in rural areas. The camps house almost 4,000 inmates.

Inmates serve their sentences at conservation camps after passing a highly selective screening process and rigorous training. A typical 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 floods, inmates are dispatched to other emergencies and non-emergencies including fires, earthquakes, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal.

It is estimated that by using inmates state and local governments save millions of dollars that otherwise would be paid to accomplish the work inmates perform.