California Inmates Paid $2 a Day to Fight Wildfires

Sunday, August 03, 2014
Calfornia inmate firefighters 2008 (photo: Ron Lewis, AP)

With wildfire season here, California taxpayers will be glad to know that they’ve got a hard-working corps of firefighters they can call on day or night, who don’t take vacations and work cheap. Really cheap.


California employs about 4,000 inmate firefighters. They’re “low-level” offenders who earn $2 a day in canteen credits, as well as two days off their sentences for each day they spend at fire camps. In the process, they save the state about $100 million a year, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


The inmates are under guard at their base camps, but there’s no barbed wire or guns. The inmates are treated more like firefighters than prisoners. “There’s an assembly where we have a formation in the mornings and it was like my second or third day and the lieutenant comes out and he goes, ‘Look, we’ll treat you like men first, firefighters second and prisoners if we have to,’ ” inmate Cory Sills told KQED. “That right there, that stuck in my head for two years now because now I have a chance to be treated like a man.”


Or like a woman. There are also female inmates in the program. They, like the men, must be able to carry large amounts of equipment and personal supplies onto a fire line and clear brush and perform other chores in brutal heat.


There are no figures on recidivism, but prison officials say anecdotally that they don’t see as many inmate firefighters return to prison as those from other programs or from no program at all.


“You learn a lot about yourself,” said Michael Dignan, who has been an inmate firefighter for four years. “You learn that there is stuff you can put yourself through that you never thought you would have been able to do.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

California Leans Heavily on Thousands of Inmate Firefighters (by Alex Helmick, KQED)

For $2 a Day, Female Inmates Help Douse Trail Fire (by Ken Stone, Times of San Diego)


Bertha Gutierrez 8 years ago
yes and they need more of these fire camps 2 dollars a day verses having them in prison which cost the state a whole lot more to house them there the state gets something and the inmates get something win win

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