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California Inmates Volunteer as Firefighters

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The California Department of Corrections is now placing prisoners on the front line of forest fires and training them to contain the flames at Yosemite National Park. Their reward? $1 per hour during emergencies, and $1-$2 per day under all other circumstances.

The program, called Conservation Camp, gives county agencies a workforce to fight fires and workers to help with other emergencies like floods and earthquakes.

"They sleep in tents at base camp," said Capt. Jorge Santana of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "They work side-by-side with other firefighters. They risk their lives."

According to the state, the work of prisoners saves taxpayers $80 million a year.

Inmates receive 64 hours of training as wild land firefighters, including grueling hikes, 9-minute mile-long runs and a myriad of other military-style exercises.

After their training is complete, inmates work five days a week and are on call 24/7.

"The time goes by much faster,"Aaron Olguin, who was sentenced to jail after driving drunk and injuring passengers, told Business Insider. "The living conditions are way better."

Conservation camps are open to inmates serving between 12 months to 7.5 years in prison, excluding those convicted of arson, murder, kidnapping or a sexual offense.

Prisoners have most recently fought the “Rim Fire” which consumed 225 square miles of forest area.


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