As fire season continues, nearly 1,600 inmate and ward firefighters battle blazes around the state
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Today, 330 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) adult inmates and 32 Division of Juvenile Justice wards have joined firefighters from city and county fire departments and state agencies to battle the Angora Fire south of Lake Tahoe. The inmates and wards are supervised by CDCR custody staff and are part of the Conservation Camp Program established in 1946.
“For the past 61 years, CDCR has provided the State of California’s cooperative agencies with an able bodied, fully trained work force ready to respond to a wildfire at a moment’s notice in any part of the state,” said CDCR Secretary James Tilton. “The inmate and ward crews provide the muscle in the state’s firefighting response, going where bulldozers and heavy equipment cannot go.”
An additional 1,237 inmates supervised by 104 correctional staff are deployed to fires in Napa, Madera and Kern counties.
“Since last weekend, we have augmented the number of firefighters at the Angora Fire with additional crews located all over the state,” Tilton said.
There are 42 adult and two Division of Juvenile Justice conservation camps in California. CDCR jointly manages 39 adult and juvenile camps with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and five adult camps with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. More than 4,400 offenders participate in the program, which has approximately 200 fire crews.
The crews respond to all types of emergencies, including wildfires, floods, search and rescue operations and earthquakes. They also work on conservation and community service projects on public land throughout the year when not fighting fires.
Only minimum-custody inmates participate in the Conservation Camp Program. They must be physically fit and have no history of violent crime including kidnapping, sex offenses, arson or escape. Juvenile offenders earn their way into camp placement and must be free of major rule infractions. Wards convicted of sex offenses or arson are excluded.
“The Conservation Camp Program provides an enormous benefit to offenders. They learn skills, teamwork and discipline as well as a solid work ethic that will serve them well when they are released from prison,” Tilton said. “The citizens of California benefit by having a fully trained workforce able to respond to fires. Moreover, the program saves the state more than $80 million every year that otherwise would be paid to accomplish the same tasks.”