Firemen fighting a fire

Violent CA Inmates Might Fight Fires

There is growing concern about whether officials should allow inmates with violent backgrounds to work outside of the prison to help the fire department fight wildfires. This is an ongoing debate in Sacramento, California.

The state has the largest and the oldest firefighting unit that is comprised of inmates with over 3,800 members who provide essential assistance to official firefighters. These inmates might have been given the option of bail, but have been incarcerated for their crime.  This number is a decrease from the 4,400 in the preceding years, but officials are seeking ways to add more to the roster.

Selection Criteria

As of right now, only inmates with no history of violent crimes that are housed in minimum security wings can participate. Next year, the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) is delivering a proposal that helps add inmates with violent offenses or violent backgrounds to the fire fighting units, especially if their classification has been reduced after good behavior.

Inmates who have about7 years left on their sentences, instead of the current stipulation of 5 years are being considered. Those excluded are people who have been convicted of sex offenses, known gang members or affiliates, kidnapping , murder and other similar crimes.

The Debate

Bill Sessa, a Corrections spokesman, said that the proposal enlarges the pool of inmates but does not change the nature of the inmate. He also states that they are not going to put an inmate with a violent attitude inside a firefighting camp.

The final approval is still yet to come for the changes within the Department of Corrections , and the proposal then has to be sent to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which they must sign off on as well.

The present of the union, Mike Lopez, oversees the inmates at the fire scenes, and he supports a robust inmate program, but he worries about the unforeseeable changes. He makes a point of accepting new criminals fostering weakness and risks in the security of the firefighting union, and he poses the question, “at what risk is CalFire willing to get those inmates?”

Janet Upton, a CalFire spokeswoman, referenced the formation of a committee this summer to determine how to keep the firefighting union program appropriate staffed. She did not make much comment on how the proposals, but she kept it simple by saying, “nobody is interested in seeing this program go away.”

The program is not perfect, and has been known to unwittingly foster more violence such as assaults and batteries during the past 10 years. It has brought about indecent exposures, and weapons possessions alongside other crimes. This is compiled by officials in corrections, and it was provided at the AP’s behest. The rate is much lower than the high-security prisons.

California Sen. Jim Nielson, is a former parole commissioner, and he disagrees with adding inmates with a history of violence to the firefighting units. He believes that it is a minor good compared to the potential consequences of compromising the justice and saftey of citizens.

Proponent, Hariet Salarno, has expressed concerns, but believes that the state does not have a choice and that the proposal would yield more benefits. She believes that the needed manpower is necessary to fight the blazing wildfires.

The inmates are housed in minimum security camps, and are scattered across the state, and they are guarded by a few correctional officers, much like a chain gang, but when they are fighting fires, the only oversight are the CalFire captians as they use tolls of the trade to fight forest fires.

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