In a stunning admission Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections admitted that they misled the public for years when they said violent offenders in prison were not allowed to work on inmate wildland firefighting crews.
After the Associated Press ran a story on October 12 saying the CDC was considering allowing inmates to serve on fire crews even if they were convicted of violent offenses such as assaults and robberies, there was considerable criticism. Later in the day, according to the Washington Post, the proposal was scrapped while it was still in a final review stage.
On Wednesday, October 14, the Associated Press published a followup story revealing that the CDC had been allowing violent offenders to work on fire crews since at least the 1990s. According to the AP, corrections officials revealed that about 1,400 of the state’s 3,700 inmate firefighters have previous convictions for violent offenses.
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said a statement on the department’s website that participating inmates must have no history of violent crimes under California’s penal code “was a thoroughly misleading statement.”
The CDC has been struggling to find ways to maintain an adequate number of inmates on the fire crews after a Supreme Court decision ordered the state to reduce the number of prisoners due to over crowding. Many state-incarcerated inmates are being moved to county jails.
California inmate fire crews are supervised on the fireline by CAL FIRE Captains, but corrections officials maintain contact with them at the incident base.
I worked as a federal firefighter in California throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and frequently worked, if not alongside, near inmates. They were just a fact of life. I was under the impression then that they had not been convicted of violent crimes. But if I were there now, knowing that about 38 percent of them are violent offenders, I would have a different opinion about working with them, eating with them, and sleeping on the ground in the same camp with them. And I can’t even imagine what a female firefighter in California must be thinking about now, after the state admitted they have been lying for years about the composition of their crews.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.