Using inmates for cheap labor in prisons is nothing new, but it might surprise Californians to learn that thousands of convicted criminals are saving their homes from wildfires for $2 a day.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2008 that non-prisoner firefighters made $10-$12 per hour, plus overtime.
According to California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there are more than 4,000 prisoner firefighters in the Conservation Camp program, which saves the state more than $100 million every year.
The firefighters include men convicted of drug offenses and armed robbery, but none of them are convicted of arson, sex offenses, murder or kidnapping.
According to NBC News, the men have to go through two weeks of intense fitness training, and two weeks of job training with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
TimesofSanDiego.com reports there are also female inmates who work as firefighters.
“First day we was out here it was like 111 or 115 and that’s not including the fire,” inmate Emir Dunn recently told KQED (video below).
Dunn carries more than 100 pounds of firefighter gear, including an axe.
Each inmate firefighting group has one professional firefighter leading them.
"It’s just like working with any other group of guys," stated Captain Josh Kitchens. "You kind of get to know their personalities and what they’re capable of and you put them in positions most suited for them. These guys are some workhorses. When it’s time to do some grunt labor, that’s what we’re good at. Get a lot of stuff done with 16 bodies.”
Prison guards watch the inmate firefighters at warehouses converted to camps and large makeshift tents, but there are no guns or barbed wire. There have been few reported escapes.
Some of the men may try to be professional firefighters after they're released, but most told KQED, “No way.”