Wtf is happening in California with inmate firefighters?
As wildfires in California rage on, some inmates have come to help.
Yes. Since the 1940s, California has used prison labor to fight wildfires, with inmates risking their lives on the front lines of the blazes. This year, the state’s wildfires have already burned a record 2 million acres, killed eight people, and destroyed over 3,300 buildings – and wildfire season could still last for months. Now, hundreds of inmates have been called in again to help the state as it deals with more than two dozen fires. But the practice doesn’t come without controversy.
One issue is COVID-19. Many inmate firefighters were released early under a program to help curb outbreaks in prisons. Others reportedly became infected or were forced to quarantine. Overall, the number of inmate firefighters able to help this year was cut in half. Another issue? Inmates get minimal to no payment. We’re talking three to five dollars a day for those helping with things like clearing brush – and an extra dollar an hour for those in front of the flames. And despite risking their lives to save others and learning the art of the trade, these inmates typically can’t become firefighters after they serve their sentences. The reason: their criminal records.
Is that ever going to change?
State lawmakers are on it. Last week, the state legislature passed a bill to give nonviolent offenders who’ve helped fight fires as inmates the opportunity to have their records expunged so they can become firefighters. The California assemblywoman who introduced the bill said, “those that have served on the fire lines deserve a second chance.” Now, the bill heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
For years, CA inmates have found themselves on the front lines of some of the worst fires in history. And have helped protect people and homes in California. Now – as hundreds step up once again to fight these deadly fires – they could be granted a second chance at a career and life.
Sources: TheSkimm, BBC.