California is paying inmates $2-$5 a day to fight wildfires


  • Having inmates as hand crews for firefighting has been a practice in California for decades.
  • The practice, however, has been criticized as a form of slave labor.
  • Inmates get $2-$5 dollars a day plus an additional $1 per hour when they are on a fire.

For just a few bucks, the California inmates are risking lives and limbs to put out the fires that have already engulfed thousands of acres of forest.  In more than a dozen blazes all over the state, 100 crews of 1,219 inmates serve as “hand crews”.

Hand crews cut fire lines with the use of chainsaws and tools and after a fire is contained, mop it up.

A captain from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection oversees each crew.

An inmate gets between $2 and $5 a day, plus a dollar for every hour they are on a fire.

This California decades-long practice of using inmates to fight fire is now facing scrutiny. Critics argue that it is a form of slave labor and unfair labor practice as the inmates get a very lowly sum as compared to some firefighters who enjoy benefits on top of six-figure salaries.

To add to that, those inmates who worked as hand crews, cannot even land jobs as firefighters after they have served their prison term because of their criminal record.

To address this issue, there is a bill just waiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature or veto.

The coronavirus pandemic has lessened the availability of inmates for firefighting as some inmates were granted release to lessen the risk of COVID-19 contamination in populous places.

Not all inmates are eligible for the firefighter work.  Only inmates with less serious felony cases can avail of the work. Criminal justice reform like outright releasing lower-level offenders or diverting them to country custody has also added to the lessening of the number of inmates as firefighters.

Due to labor shortage, the California fire officials have already requested for additional hand crews from outside California.

Source: New York Post

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