California is paying $673 an hour for 621 minimum security male inmates and 52 women inmates in order to fight the Rim Fire that threatens the Yosemite National Park this Labor Day. And that is saving the large state's taxpayers as much as $80 million dollars per year in emergency services cost, since inmate labor fees are so low.
But is the use of inmate labor a wise decision when it comes to the safety of the state's citizens and visitors, especially in an emergency setting like a wildfire, where escape could happen much more easily?
Based upon a Grab Media video about the program, these particular inmates are lower risk than the more violent predators behind bars, as these men and women were sentenced to minimum security facilities and already have more privileges within the prison system than their more high-risk inmates.
Additionally, they had to undergo a total of four weeks of training before being allowed to assist in such crisis scenarios, so they do not put seasoned emergency personnel at risk or risk the lives of those who they may need to help in wildfire and other areas during the blaze battle.
It has been almost two years to the month since California's Gov. Jerry Brown launched his prison system reform program, according to KQED. And the federal government is demanding that the governor and his state reduce overcrowded prisons and improve inmate healthcare as well, so using minimum security inmates in a cost-effective way seems to be a good way to meet these goals.
Thus far there has been no adverse report of any violence towards citizens or park guests by any of the almost 1,000 inmates released to assist with the Rim Fire. And the fact that their labor cost is so much lower than what the state would have to pay anyone else to do this job makes a good case for continuing this program.
Additionally, prison systems are meant to be rehabilitative in nature, but as one inmate can be seen stating on this YouTube video from the past, a lack of educational opportunities inside the prison system in California will limit what opportunities exist for employment once prisoners are released.
Thus the firefighting skills being learned by inmates now may lead to greater employment opportunities when they are released, especially if they prove not to be a threat to the public during this crisis period at the Yosemite National Park.
National Criminal Profiles Examiner Radell Smith has a degree in behavioral forensics and criminal justice.