Giving Compass’ Take:
• Nonprofit Quarterly examines how California pays inmates to fight wildfires for a small wage, a practice that seems inhumane considering the extreme danger involved.
• Is this a failure of one state’s policy or the result of larger criminal reform injustices? What can we do to address the inequities of the system so that prisoners aren’t forced to put their lives on the line for meager pay?
For 60 years, incarcerated people in California have been fighting the state’s wildfires for a pittance, even as the fires have grown larger and deadlier thanks to recent drought and climate change. The state’s attitude and statements about the program demonstrate a mindset that considers incarcerated people resources, at the service of California’s general population.
The Conservation Camp program is run jointly by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (now known as Cal Fire). Forty-three camps dot the state, including three for women and one for juvenile offenders. Inmates are paid $2 per day, plus $1 for each hour spent on the front lines, which is nevertheless astonishingly considered high for prison wages. For each day of good behavior in the camps, workers get two days off their sentence. They also get better food, safety and physical fitness training, more relaxed family visits, and a chance to be outside in nature instead of behind prison walls.
The state of California gets an average of eight million hours per year of dangerous labor, for which they pay professional firefighters an average of $17/hour, virtually free. Four thousand inmates fight wildfires in California, making up about 30 percent of the force and reportedly saving the state about $100 million every year. (Never mind that the state has also estimated that it costs taxpayers nearly $71,000 a year to house and safeguard a single prisoner).
Read the full article about California inmates fighting wildfires by Erin Rubin at nonprofitquarterly.org.
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