Inmates Battling the California Blazes


Source: Business Insider

Gina Hofbauer, Features Editor, Photographer

As fires ignite and burn down whole communities all over California, the need for firemen has become extreme. It has been dire enough that California prison inmates have been released and began helping put out fires. Over 2,000 inmates join the other 14,000 certified firemen to help battle the blazes.

Many people are unaware that convicts have been used to fight fires since World War II. The inmates take part in volunteer firefighting program ran by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Inmates who want to help are evaluated and the CDCR will determine if they are cleared to help. Inmates who have committed arson, sexual offenses, have live warrants as well as certain health issues and risks are automatically denied.

It’s a wonderful thing that people who once made decisions that badly affected their community or have made bad past life decisions are able to help their community and state. Not only will helping allow inmates to spend time away from the crammed prison walls they live in daily, inmates will feel a sense of pride and idea that they can grow from past mistakes, they also receive time off their sentence. However, there are still some issues that come along with inmate treatment.

Inmates get paid two dollars a day plus one dollar for every hour they put out fires. The average wage for California firemen is 33.26 an hour and typically only increases from there. It’s understandable that these volunteers are inmates, and they must have done something bad to end up in prison in the first place. However; they’re still human beings risking their lives, by choice, to serve, save, and protect others.

You’d think inmates would consider their first day out of prison as the best day of their life- that is not the case. Once an inmate is released from prison, they have nothing for themselves besides a few dollars earned while in prison or just enough to cover your travel expenses. Many inmates don’t have anywhere to travel to, It’s common that family tends to cut all ties with their inmate relatives therefore; they are not allowed back home. This shows how once an inmate is released, they have nothing. Most decent paying jobs refuse to hire past convicts no matter how small the charges. They do this because if the inmate were to commit a crime at the job site or related to work, the business would be liable.Although; with the past hands-on experience, shouldn’t inmates be able to at least apply to become a certified firefighter?

When things get ugly, The CFD (California Fire Department) has no trouble calling inmates to serve in the extremely dangerous and life threatening conditions but, as soon as an inmate actually wants to turn their life around and is released, they can count on the CFD to slam those fire-red doors right in their faces. Although the CDCR only allows some inmates to assist firefighters, and those who have committed extreme crimes are not allowed to help or most likely will ever leave prison, they are still denied. Why should a person who served time for minor drug use and/or possession or something easily forgivable be denied the right to help and save others? I know that if my community were set ablaze, I wouldn’t care who saved my home and my family. Would you?

LCN history teacher, Mr. Terry Ebury, a Californian native says,  “I think it is a necessity (to use inmates) because there is not enough labor force to deal with an increasingly environmentally unstable California. It is becoming drier and drier and they have enough labor for the basic protection of fire outbreaks but not the extreme we are seeing now. The Californian budget is under a major strain. I think within certain criteria, (inmates should be allowed to apply to become firemen), it depends on the crime. It’s not a basic community service- You’re putting your life on the line.”

Californian government officials have even bragged about saving the state close to 100 million a year by having inmates perform labor tasks for the state but, when it comes to actually paying released inmates adequately for their service, there is no consideration.

Inmates are humans- humans make mistakes. However; humans also have the power to learn and grow from those mistakes and make something out of themselves. Isn’t it time the Californian government allows them to do so?