By Antonio Alvarado
Officials in California counties are concerned that the passage of Proposition 47 will give the inmate fire crew programs uncertain futures, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Proposition 47 reduces penalties on drug possession and nonviolent crimes, which could sharply reduce the number of jail inmates qualified for fire camp duties.
San Bernardino County officials are sorting out how the law affects inmate fire crews as well as other programs, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller told the Times in a Nov. 12 story. “It could very well create an issue as far as having inmates eligible to be part of the inmate fire crew,” she said.
“The inmates who could now be released from custody would be the ones that have the criminal history that allows them to be part of that program.”
Fire crews are made up of nonviolent state prisoners. They have long been a major plus in helping protect California during fire season. About 4,000 offenders statewide participate, saving about $80 million in firefighting annually.
The newspaper story focused on three former fire crew fighters: William Winegardner, 34, of Hesperia; Tim Johnson, 49, of San Bernardino; and James Jones, 26, of Barstow.
They reported they have changed their views and attitude toward life in a positive way and become productive citizens, leaving their old ways of thinking behind and anticipating to live pro-social.
For Winegardner, the fire crew brought forth a transition in which he hopes will be a new life. “For me to even be considered to get on with them shows that I’ve done good here,” Winegardner said. “Last time I didn’t have a job to go to, I didn’t have any of that. Now, I’m more confident. I know I’m going to do good this time.”
Several inmates now are waiting on the list to join the crew, officials say. For many of the fire crew fighters, the community’s gratitude has given them a sense of pride.
“Instead of people saying, ‘Oh, here comes T.J., that drug dealer,’ they’re like, ‘Hey, here’s T.J., the hard worker,’” said Johnson. “They respect me.”
Jones has applied his free time to reading volumes of magazines and self-help books on long-term planning and overcoming addiction. He said being part of the fire crew has made him realize past mistakes, believing there is a second chance to capture.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “This whole program gave me a whole different motivation and reason to pursue a better future.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Capt. Nina Jamson, the commander of Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center, said the inmate fire crew members “learn to remove themselves from what they used to do. And they’re changing their attitudes and look at life differently.”
By Antonio Alvarado