Oak Glen firecamp reopens to house long-term jail inmates

By Mike Little

Storied San Bernardino fire camp Oak Glen has signed a contract with the state to provide minimum-security beds for long-term jail inmates at the state’s 160-bed camp.

Bill Sessa, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) spokesperson, said the plan is part of new legislation aimed at reducing the prison population, according to an article by Harvey Kahn of IECN. 

“People are not going to be let out of prison early, and we are not lowering our standards,” Sessa explained.

“No one with a pattern of violent behavior is accepted. You get one chance. If you are disruptive in any form, you are returned to an electronically fenced facility.” 

Gangs and other rivalries must set aside their differences in order to function as a team. 

Fire camp work is extremely taxing but pays better than most prison labor jobs at $2 per hour, plus an extra dollar per hour while fighting fires, according to the article.

“They get a day-for-day off their sentence,” Sessa said. “During the time on a fire line, they get two days off their sentence for each day worked.”

Established 90 years ago, the Oak Glen Conservation Camp was the first of its kind and is the largest of 43 in California. As early as 1928, honor crews built roads and worked on county parks projects, flood control and water main systems.   

Oak Glen firecamp

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt used the camp for a Civilian Conservation Corps federal jobs program. In 1963 President Lyndon B. Johnson picked the site to be the location of a pilot training program during his tenure.

He also used the camp for high school dropouts, under his 1963 Anti-Poverty Act, with the Riverside County Schools designating the local funds.

President Richard Nixon reverted the camp to a penal institution; by 1972 it was under the control of the California Youth Authority. Through the 1980s the state financed millions of dollars to upgrade the camp, according to the article.

“Oak Glen Conservation Camp has never been a problem in the community,” CDCR said in an official statement.

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