Wearing orange pants and vests marked CDCR, an all-women inmate crew is helping California fight forest fires and clear potential fuel for future blazes.
“We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” said Stephen Scatolini, restoration specialist for California State Parks, as the female workers worked to clear dying Torrey pine trees infested with bark beetles.
“The trees we have to take out are the big, thick trees that take a long time to die,” Scatolini told the San Diego Reader, which reported the story Jan. 23.
“The trees weigh tons,” said CAL FIRE Capt. Mitch Hubbard.
CAL FIRE shared space and training with a carefully selected and trained group of state-prison inmates who deployed to fight fires, clear brush and work on state and county park land projects, the article reads.
“They come away with a skill set that will help them transition when they’re released”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made history when Rainbow Conservation Camp #2 became an all-female camp in 1983, the article reports. CDCR also has a number of all-male inmate firefighter crews around California.
“It’s a very rigorous training,” said camp commander Lt. Harriet Woods. “We have a six-week program that includes physical fitness, fire suppression and emergency response.”
The women on the crews are paid less than $1.50 an hour and often send the money home, the story said.
“They can receive a useful job reference, and they know they can apply to CAL FIRE – it has actually happened that CAL FIRE has hired our crew members,” Woods said. “They come away with a skill set that will help them transition when they’re released.”
“They are minimum custody – lower offenders and are more trustworthy and trusted. For a lot of the women, this is the first time they have been trained and supported and are working for an hourly wage.”
One of the women firefighters said, “I feel like I’m giving back for what I did.”
Another of the women said, “We live together; we eat together; we’re like a family. It can get tricky out here, and we look out for each other.”