California’s Prison Problems Won’t Extinguish Inmate Firefighters


Two weeks after the Rim Fire started burning in northern California, thousands of firefighters are still working around the clock to slow its spread. As water-laden planes and helicopters attack the blaze from the air, crews on the ground labor to clear wood and dry brush, dig firelines and start small backfires to draw the main blaze away from populated areas. It’s dangerous, heroic work by almost any measure. But of the nearly 4,000 firefighters battling the Rim Fire, 600 are not exactly the grade school role models you might imagine. They are California state prisoners.

The nearly century-old Conservation Camps program has benefited both California and its inmates, officials say. In addition to providing the state with cheap labor and extra manpower during natural disasters, it has also reduced recidivism, according to the California Department of Corrections. Helping released inmates stay out of prison is more crucial than ever as California struggles through…

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