california inmates fight fires for $2/day but can’t apply for actual position after their release

August 10, 2018
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As historic fires rage on in California, it’s so important to recognize the environmental reasons why the fires persist and who the people fighting said fires are the ground actually are. In many cases, the folks aiding professional firefighters and other emergency service types are actually incarcerated citizens. 3,400 inmates in fact from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are fighting alongside salaried firefighters who earn an annual mean wage of $74,000 a year, plus benefits. Inmates earn just $2 per DAY, with an additional dollar per hour while fighting an active fire.

While inmates without histories of arson, sexual crimes, kidnapping, gang affiliation, escape attempts, or facing a life sentence are eligible to volunteer for the firefighting program, that’s not something they can transfer once out of prison. In California, most if not all firefighters are required to be licensed emergency medical technicians (EMT), but convicted felons are typically barred from pursuing such licenses. Meaning that these brave and well-trained inmates risk their lives for a few dollars without any protections other firefighters receive, including compensation for loves ones should their work prove fatal.

Black and brown labor is cheap and easy to exploit, especially when those people are prisoners.