Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

As Their Numbers Dwindle, Prison Inmates Help Fight Fires

Jul 16, 2012

Fire fighters battling wildfires across California this week are getting support from hundreds of state prison inmates. That's been the case for years, but as Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, Governor Jerry Brown's prison realignment is starting to reduce the number of inmates available to help.

Some inmates cook for the fire fighters. Others help build fire lines by hand in terrain so rough machines can’t do it. But only "minimum-security" inmates are eligible for this popular program – and realignment is slowly but surely shifting non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders from state prisons to county jails.

"We’re still able to staff the camps. And we believe it's going to be fine for this fire season," said Jeffrey Callison, with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"Going forward, though, obviously there’s going to need to be some longer-term solution, and it’s a priority for all parties concerned because this is an important service."

That solution could involve agreements with individual counties to make their new minimum-security inmates available to help fight fires.