Tuesday, February 10, 1998

PRISON INMATES BATTLING CURRENT FLOODING

More than 1600 inmates and 130 staff from the California Department of Corrections have been dispatched to help battle flooding in 14 northern and central California counties.

The inmates are filling and loading sandbags, sandbagging levees and structures threatened by breaks and rising floodwaters, cooking hot meals for flood fighters and evacuees, and helping out where they are needed.

In many counties, the inmates have been on the job since flooding began last week. They remain on alert during this period between storms, while many continue the hard work needed to protect lives and property.

In Monterey County, more than 75 inmates have been working to keep the Pajaro River from flooding, with each of the five crews filling 10,000 sandbags a day. They are repairing levees, cleaning up after mud slides, and removing trees and debris from the roadways. Another 100 inmates are staged at the Monterey County Fairgrounds ready to respond wherever they are needed. Seventeen inmates are staffing the mobile kitchen at the Fairgrounds, feeding hundreds of flood workers daily.

In San Joaquin County and surrounding areas, more than 300 inmates are positioned to be dispatched to trouble spots. Two crews (a total of 36 inmates) are reinforcing levees on the 8-mile Tract, another two crews are sandbagging at the Farmington Dam overspill, two more crews are working to strengthen the Liberty Island bridge levee, and another crew is bracing the Upper Andrus Island levee.

The inmates are normally assigned to one of 38 conservation camps, or minimum security prisons, located in rural areas throughout the state. 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 camp inmate 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.