SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com/AP) — California officials are considering allowing inmates with violent backgrounds to work outside prison walls fighting wildfires, and the idea is generating concerns about public safety.

The state has about 3,800 inmate firefighters with no history of violent crimes. But that’s down from about 4,400 in previous years, so prison officials are looking for ways to add inmates.

Starting next year, the corrections department is proposing adding inmates convicted of violent offenses if their security classification level has been reduced after years of good behavior.

Officials tell The Associated Press they also are seeking to allow inmates who have up to seven years left on their sentences instead of the current five.

Arsonists, kidnappers, sex offenders, gang affiliates and those serving life sentences for murder and other crimes would still be excluded.

KNX 1070’s Margaret Carrero reports some officials say statewide prison realignment is shrinking the pool of potential low-level offenders.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a former parole commissioner, calls the move a safety risk.

“You’re not providing firefighters, you’re providing criminals,” Nielsen said, adding officials should instead consider other options such as expanding the Conservation Corps.

Corrections spokesperson Bill Sessa denied the plan would ease standards for the program, but rather that inmates who exhibit the same kind of violent behavior that got them locked up in the first place won’t even be considered.

“The nature of the person that’s going into the camp is not going to change,” said Sessa. “We’re just simply looking at a wider pool of potential inmates who might be eligible to go into the camp.”

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