Inmates are 20 percent of California fire crews

By Thomas Gardner

Many California prisoners find gratifying work fighting wildfires. Roughly 20 percent of the state’s fire crews are inmates, according to a CBS News report.

“They’re among the first to hit the front lines of California’s dangerous wildfires. The orange uniforms let people know – these firefighters are inmates,” according to Chris Martinez of CBS News.

Certain offenses, often involving violence, exclude prisoners from participating in the firefighting program, however, there are exceptions: Robert Lane, in prison for great bodily injury (GBI – a “violent” crime), has been in the program for about five years, Martinez reports.

“It’s a big opportunity. I’m giving back to the community for what I did. … We’re treated as firefighters … it lets you know you’re worth something,” Lane says.

California’s prisoner firefighting program is the largest of its kind in the country; and the inmates perform dangerous work for $2 per hour, the news report says.

Keith Guillory of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says, “It is dangerous work and a volunteer program, so we shouldn’t take it for granted just because they’re inmates that they have to be out there.”

The inmate firefighter crews perform the crucial task of digging fire containment lines and clearing paths so that other crews can reach the flames.

Inmate firefighters say that the experience has impacted them in a positive way, giving them a sense of pride for when they leave prison, CBS reports.

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