California Inmates at the Frontline of Wildfires

As fires rage through the state of California, thousands of prison inmates have been deployed to fight them. Some of their responsibilities are clearing dead wood left from the fire, as well as cutting firelines. In exchange for risking their lives, they recieve low-wage payment and reduced sentences. Most former inmates who received firefighting training were ineligible to become professional firefighters due to their criminal record preventing them from getting the state license necessary for employment. Despite grueling exercises and time spent fighting fires, prisoners are still denied a job in the fire department. According to CNN.com, “the average compensation for an inmate firefighter is $3.63 per day, and they earn an additional $1.00 per day when deployed to an active fire, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Christine McMorrow said in August.” Their wage is significantly less than California’s $15 minimum wage, as well as even the national minimum wage of $7.25,  despite their extensive efforts at the frontlines of the California fires. Meanwhile, prison labor saves the state a whopping $100 million. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there are four inmate crews fighting the 143,000-acre Creek Fires. Only those with less serious felonies can help, but only for a small amount of money. Prisoners fighting fires is an example of the system’s injustice, especially since they can not get a job as a firefighter later on. How is that fair? If they are willing to change they deserve equal opportunities for jobs. Prisoners receive the proper training required for occupation in the program, yet don’t have the opportunity for rehabilitation or employment. Only recently, a California bill started allowing inmates to get their records effaced in order to make them eligible to become a firefighter. It is important to offer pathways for those who show ambition in wanting to change themselves for the better.