California’s prison realignment is continuing to cause waves throughout the state. Most recently, it’s been reported that low-level offenders who previously helped clear brush and cut fire lines, will no longer be able to serve in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Conservation Camp Program after they’re transferred from state to county jails.
The primary mission of the Conservation Camp program is to provide agencies with an able-bodied, trained work force for fire suppression and other emergencies such as floods and earthquakes.
According to statistics provided by the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in an average year, Conservation Camp Program inmates provide approximately three million person hours in firefighting and other emergencies and save California taxpayers more than $80 million annually, on average.
The challenge lies in that many county jails, such as Los Angeles jails and San Diego jails, are releasing these low-level offenders early due to overcrowding. Some lawmakers are now questioning if there will be enough eligible inmates to volunteer for these types of positions.
The state has been utilizing these types of inmates to help fight wildfires since World War II. In a Dec. 24 article by the LA Times, it was pointed out that prisoners who “exhibit ideal behavior in custody” could be “as much as half the manpower assigned to a large fire”. After 2013, inmate fire crews could be reduced by as much as 40%.
Some Sheriff’s have suggested that these types of inmates could be released and monitored with GPS ankle bracelets, but some question whether they’d come back to volunteer to serve on fire crews if they’re not still in custody.
Lawmakers, law enforcement and fire officials have said they will continue to work toward a solution. For now, however, the dollars-and-cents of dwindling budgets and lack of bed-space due to overcrowding still need to be worked out.