CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES: INMATES ARE RISKING THEIR LIVES WORKING ALONGSIDE FIREFIGHTERS FOR $2 A DAY(Source Newsweek) As California firefighters work to contain the largest wildfire in state history, they find themselves working their 24-hour shifts alongside a group of unlikely partners: 3,400 inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The groups work in unison, but while salaried California firefighters earn an annual mean wage of $74,000 plus benefits, inmates earn just $2 per day with an additional $1 per hour when fighting an active fire. Inmates without histories of arson, sexual crimes, kidnapping, gang-affiliation, escape attempts or facing a life sentence are allowed to volunteer for the firefighting program and are trained for two weeks in fire safety and field conditions before taking a physical exam. Once the exam is passed, prisoners are sent to live in one of 43 low-security field camps throughout the state. Juvenile delinquents are also eligible for the program, at least 58 youth offenders are currently fighting active wildfires.
“In an active fire, Cal Fire makes the determination for all crews based on the conditions, and the safety and security of all firefighters. In other words, inmate firefighters are not treated differently in the work they perform at the camps,” Vicky Waters, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Newsweek on Tuesday. “I just want to emphasize that we absolutely recognize the incredible job these firefighters are doing, particularly when lives and properties are at stake.” An inmate also earns extra time off of their sentence for good behavior, typically two days off for each day served.