LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A cost-cutting move to transfer tens of thousands of state inmates to county jails could potentially cripple a key component of California’s firefighting force.

Gov. Jerry Brown hopes the plan will ultimately satisfy a U.S. Supreme Court order to slash California’s prison population by 33,000 inmates, even though the initial transfer will fall far short of that goal.

But in doing so, the state could lose critical support for firefighters.

An estimated 4,400 state inmates are put on the front lines of wildfires each year, mostly in support roles like clearing brush and starting fire lines.

Department of Corrections spokesman Rae Stewart told KNX 1070 that if the plan goes through, they’ll try to cut deals to keep those inmates available.

“It potentially has the possibility to impact our conservation camps, as well as our other institutions,” said Stewart. “However, the department is currently looking at options to keep our workforce in the camps as it is right now.”

California has 44 conservation camps statewide that help make up 200 fire crews, a total that Stewart said underscores the vital role of inmates in state and county firefighting efforts.

“They hike in to the fire and they actually go direct attack, to where they’ll put a fire line in to prevent the fire from possibly spreading,” said Stewart.

And that, in turn, gives prisoners a useful place in society — a goal that faces new challenges now with more budget cuts aimed squarely at the department’s rehabilitation funding.

“When they’re not fighting fires or floods, they do community service projects, conservation projects,” said Stewart.

Most inmates earn a dollar an hour while fighting fires, and a $1.45 per day when they’re training or doing other projects.

Comments (4)
  1. Saber 1 says:

    Just execute all rapists, drug dealers and murderers. That should free up some space and our loyal firefighters will keep their jobs.

    1. Darla Anderson says:

      Perhaps the loyal firefighters want to go home to their families. They are not loyal firefighters; they are slaves!! I know. I’m the wife of one of them.

  2. Darla Anderson says:

    I hope that many Ventura County families, as well as families across the state, will soon see a return of inmates to their homes, their wives, their children, such as with a house arrest or work furlough program. For those charged with DUI’s, they should have been ordered a device put on their vehicles at the guilty party’s expense, as well as structured therapy to deal with addiction, at the FIRST OFFENSE, rather than continuing to serve prison sentences. I pray for the healing of familial relationships, and I hope that healing and meeting the needs of each other will be something that these inmates and their families will soon be able to love each other with. My husband is a firefighter in a Northern California Fire Camp. He has been gone for over 2 1/2 years, leaving me to provide for 7 children, two of which have autism. Five of those children are 10 yrs or younger. (James’ DUI, occurred only under duress, and caused $600 vehicle damage; James was sentenced to 5 years at 80% time). As firefighters, they not only are in your communities to fight fires; these men are often out in the community doing services that no one else is available to take care of–except that many of them, like my husband, are 12 hours away from their families. My husband is a skilled carpenter and special effects man that works for the Motion Picture and Television industry. He is college-educated. Whether he can get a work furlough, or just stay at home, we are happy to have him and take care of his financial needs. Instead of making a deal, Rae Stewart, you can send my 57 year old husband home to me–thank you very much–rather than try to keep him there to fight fires. They already had one death there last week, in my opinion it was from overworking those poor guys!!

  3. Darla Anderson says:

    It seems that CALFIRE has issues with losing their jobs to the Inmate Firefighters. From this page: http://www.wildlandfire.com/hotlist/showthread.php?t=18502, comes the comment of a CALFIRE captain:
    I was a crew captain for 8 years and I agree our inmate crews do a fantastic job. The only problem with this article is that while true inmates get paid a small amount (the actual pay is $1 per hour while assigned to an incident plus their daily grade pay of about $2.00 a day) the article does not take into account the cost of the corrections officers. I was astounded to learn that after aircraft cost on a fire that the second highest cost for a state fire was the corrections cost! This is more then the cost of firefighters who are actually on the line and even more then the feeding cost. I dont want to make this a bashing of CDC but the problem is they are paid an exhorbidant amount of money to basically watch inmates sleep while they are on R and R

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