It is not known by many people, but there are inmates that are allowed to work outside of prison walls. There are fire crews that are made up of inmates that are highly trained and effective during the fire season in California, which is especially important given that the heavy rain fall this year replenished grasslands. Last month, in preparation for the fire season, three California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation fire camps competed in an exercise in which they were scored on how quickly they could cut a fire break, deploy fire shelters, and hike 2 miles. Silvio Lanzas, a division chief for Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department, stated:

The more grass we have, the more brush we have, the more we’re going to rely on all of our resources including (inmate) fire crews to contain and control fires. The amount of line construction that they are able to put in in a very short amount of time is an excellent resource to the taxpayers and an excellent resource to the firefighting agencies

Inmates that work on fire crews are paid $2 a day, plus they earn $2 per hour when they are actually on the fire lines. Jobs in prison only pay 35 to 90 cents per hour, which is much less than an inmate can make by joining a fire crew.

The inmates on the fire crews also respond to emergencies such as floods and earthquakes, while performing community service projects such as picking up trash during slower times. In fact, a couple of months ago, over 200 inmates worked on the Oroville Dam cleaning debris near the emergency spillway during the spillway failure.

The Department of Corrections’ budget allows for 4,300 inmates to work as crew members, but the most recent data shows that there are only 3,650 inmates working on fire crews. However, some inmates are not allowed to work as a fire crew member, which includes: arsonists, escapees, murderers, and sex offenders.

An inmate working on a fire crew is an interesting thing that is hardly mentioned during news reports.

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