Nov 26, 2018
The State of California deployed about 1,500 inmates to fight active fires, like the Camp Fire, as it is called, the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history. Considering that a total of roughly 9,400 firefighters are currently engaged in such fires, these inmate firefighters' contributions are very important.
California relies on prisoners to fight wildfires more than any other state. The program of using inmate labor dates back to 1915, when the state first established labor camps that forced inmates to build highways and roads. In 1946, the state opened Camp Rainbow in Fallbrook, which housed inmates to fight fires. Today, 3,700 inmates work at 44 fire camps across the state.
But, the inmate firefighters are paid $2 per day, and another $1 per hour when they fight active fires, a pitiful wage for very dangerous work. Six inmate firefighters have died since 1983. One inmate firefighter, Amika Mota, told the New York Times: “It is such a dangerous job. At a minimum, people should be paid a fair wage.”
California “saved” between 90 and 100 million dollars a year by using the inmate firefighters, as the state officials “proudly” reported. This is the monetary benefit from the state paying such pitiful wages to its inmate labor.
Also, although these inmates are trained for the firefighting, and California heavily relies on them to fight fires, they are not expected to be firefighters when they finish serving their sentences and are released: California does not hire convicts as firefighters.
The State of California, like any other capitalist institution, exploits its workers; it even avoids paying market wages, using the incarceration of thousands to its advantage.