US: Prison inmates are fighting California's fires, but are often denied firefighting jobs after their release - - PressFrom - US
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US Prison inmates are fighting California's fires, but are often denied firefighting jobs after their release

19:06  31 october  2019
19:06  31 october  2019 Source:   cnn.com

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Despite fighting California ' s largest fires , inmates are denied licenses they need to become Inmates who volunteer to fight California ' s largest fires denied access to jobs on release . But in a bitterly ironic twist, once inmates leave prison , they often can’t work as firefighters , despite their

Yet after inmate firefighters are released , firefighting jobs are hard to find. About 1,500 inmates in California prisons are helping the state fight wildfires Yet after inmates with firefighting experience are released , doors at fire departments are often closed.Credit Stephen Lam/Reuters.

When a roaring wildfire approached Janet and Dan Condron's door in Santa Rosa, California, in 2017, they were certain their home would be destroyed. The retired couple decided to evacuate.

a group of people in uniform: A crew of inmate firefighters takes a break from battling the Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California.© PHILIP PACHECO/AFP/AFP via Getty Images A crew of inmate firefighters takes a break from battling the Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California.

That's when an unexpected firefighting crew appeared on their cul-du-sac and got to work, creating a break in the fire that ultimately saved the Condrons' home.

These firefighters weren't from the fire department — they were from a nearby correctional facility.

"I don't think we would still have our homes if it wasn't for those 26 individuals," said Dan Condron.

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Despite fighting California ' s largest fires , inmates are denied licenses they need to become firefighters after they get out. Nick Sibilla, Opinion contributor - Aug. 20, 2018. As California struggles to contain the largest fire in state history, more than 2

California ' s inmate firefighter program is open to prisoners who are not convicted of arson, sexual crimes, kidnapping or gang-related offenses, as long as they do not have a Inmates are used to fight smaller fires too. According to The New York Times, about half the firefighting personnel at any

Prisoners on the front lines

California employs about 3,100 inmates as part of the state's Conservation Camp program, which provides critical support to state and federal agencies responding to emergencies such as wildfires, floods and other disasters. About 2,150 of those inmates are authorized to fight fires.

a group of people traveling down a dirt road: An inmate firefighter crew works in Los Angeles' Pacific Palisades neighborhood in October.© Mario Tama/Getty Images North America/Getty Images An inmate firefighter crew works in Los Angeles' Pacific Palisades neighborhood in October.

As multiple fires rage across California, the role firefighting inmates play is coming under renewed scrutiny. Despite their extensive training and heroic efforts in times of crisis, these inmates are often denied roles in fire departments after they're released because of their felony records.

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Inmates are paid a day, and an hour when fighting an active fire . They also earn time off their sentences. While some work programs have been known to decrease recidivism and improve outcomes after incarceration, programs like these rarely lead to firefighting jobs once inmates are

California prison inmates who assist with wildfire suppression and conservation efforts often can't find fire service jobs after they are released . But when these inmates are released , it can be hard for them to turn their months of work into a steady job as a firefighter on the outside.

"These inmates go through the training and then they want to go on and pursue additional training and that door is closed to them," says Mark Farouk, a spokesman for California Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, who earlier this year introduced a bill that seeks to ease restrictions on ex-convicts. The bill has stalled in the state government, but may be considered again in January, Farouk says.

Currently, most fire departments require candidates to have an EMT license, which Farouk says is extremely difficult to cacquire with a felony conviction. Reyes's bill aims to provide a path for former inmates to become professional firefighters after their release.

a group of people wearing costumes: Inmate firefighters take a break while battling the Kincade Fire this week in Healdsburg, California.© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/Getty Images Inmate firefighters take a break while battling the Kincade Fire this week in Healdsburg, California.

On-the-job training

Under the Conservation Camp program, which is jointly run by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Los Angeles Fire Department, only low-security prisoners with a record of good behavior are eligible.

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In California , the firefighting work is supposed to be voluntary, and the prisoners can earn time off of their sentences. Many inmates have reported appreciating the work. But it would be far more beneficial — both for the inmates and for society — if their new skills could lead to jobs after their release .

During these massive fires , it’ s common for inmate crews to work 24 straight hours, followed by a day of Some inmates , he said, have never even held a job before joining the firefighting program. “These inmates are not necessarily confined to fighting fires where they camp,” Sessa said.

Those who volunteer receive the same entry-level training that the state's seasonal firefighters receive. The inmates work long hours, earning between $2.90 and $5.12 a day, and an additional $1 an hour when they're battling fires. The wages are higher than most other prison jobs, but comes with significantly greater risk. Since 1983, at least six incarcerated firefighters have died on duty.

"I could be sitting behind the [prison] wall right now, dealing with all the drama that that entails, or I could be out here helping save this part of California because of this disaster," former inmate firefighter Daniel Erickson told NPR last year.

The climate crisis is making things worse

The need for firefighters will only grow as the climate crisis makes wildfires in the Golden State more intense.

On Wednesday, there were more than 26 million people from California to Arizona under red flag warnings as firefighters combatted multiple blazes including the Kincade Fire in Northern California and the Tick and Getty Fires in Southern California. The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, or CalFire, called climate change "a key driver" of the trend of longer fire seasons.

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Inmates have been fighting California ’ s wildfires since the 1940s, when the state first called up In California , the inmate firefighting work is supposed to be voluntary. It’s also an opportunity that Sometimes the jobs will take inmates outside of prison , although more frequently they merely mimic

FlickrCalifornia fire - fighting inmate . California has had to face its fair share of devastating wildfires Compared to the hourly wages that inmates earn working other jobs , this volunteer firefighter wage These volunteer inmate firefighters make up nearly 40 percent of California ’ s firefighters and save

"It's been clear to [Reyes] that climate change is contributing to these extreme weather events," Farouk said. "We definitely need more firefighters and folks that are willing to put themselves in harm's way."

A way to serve

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that will help former prisoners assist in emergency response units, but stops short of allowing them to become full-fledged firefighters.

"Inmate fire crews consist of men and women who have trained through a special program and risk their lives to protect the public," said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, who authored the bill. "Once an individual has paid their debt to society and served their time, they should be able to reintegrate back to society and have an opportunity for a good job and live a stable life with dignity."

California has plenty of applicants for fire department jobs, says Carroll Wills, a representative for California Professional Firefighters, an advocacy group. But the state needs more people who can assist in emergencies by clearing brush and trees.

"As these incidents become more frequent and more dangerous, additional resources are necessary," Wills said.

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