California Sent 1,000 Drug Offenders to Fight the Forest Fire

As the Malibu wildfire nears full containment, it is very worth noting that about 1,100 male and female nonviolent drug offenders normally warehoused in California prisons were called upon to risk life and limb fighting last month’s massively devastating blazes. In fact, nearly one in eight of all firefighters who participated were drug offenders.

After a few phone calls to the state corrections department I learned that about 3,000 inmates helped to fight the wildfires, along with 6,000 non-incarcerated firefighters. Almost 4 out of every 10 inmates involved (about 37%) were nonviolent drug offenders.

Breck Wright, a non-incarcerated firefighter who has worked side by side these inmates on numerous occasions, told The Associated Press, "I think it would be very hard without them. It would really impact us…They are very effective, hardworking and are well-trained. They know what they are doing."

Boy, does this one merit examination – I mean, 1 out of every 3 firefighters relied upon were prisoners?! California is a "tough on crime," three-strikes-you're-out state, which from 1980 to 1999 experienced a 25-fold increase in the number of drug offenders sentenced to state prison. Sentencing in drug cases can be severe. For their effort, the prisoners receive $1 per hour and two days off their sentences for every day spent on the fire lines. An added benefit, of course, is the chance to break the monotony of prison life.

California has at its disposal 4,502 prison inmates fully trained to fight fires, 1,655 of whom are drug offenders. Only inmates considered "minimal custody" are permitted to participate -- violent criminals, kidnappers, sex offenders, and arsonists are all banned. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Conservation Camp Program (CCP) began in 1946 -- before the "war on drugs" kicked off in earnest and became the driving force behind California’s explosive prison growth. Saving state taxpayers more than an average of $80 million annually, the program provides three million person hours in firefighting and other emergencies, and seven million person hours in community service project work.

If the news accounts are accurate, and I don't have a basis for disputing them, the prison firefighters sought to participate in this program and feel that they are getting something out of it, both during their prison terms and after they're released. Nevertheless, the question should be asked whether it is moral to send prisoners, people who by definition are being confined against their will, into a dangerous operation in which some of them could lose their lives. Yes, they went out willingly -- they served with pride -- but why do we have them in prison in the first place? Drug use and drug sales are consensual acts, and the people engaging in them should mostly be left alone. Some drug offenders no doubt got to where they were through living screwed up lives. But even they just need help, or positive opportunities available without going to prison, not incarceration. And why aren't there more opportunities for prisoners generally, and safe ones?

If this group of people is worthy to send to risk their lives to save our lives, homes and businesses, aren't they worthy of freedom too? At a minimum they deserve better than the paltry amount of time off and chincy number of dollars that they're getting. Let's get serious -- how about pardons? After all, the non-incarcerated firefighters have stated how much they needed the prisoners' help. How many homes would have burnt down, communities been destroyed, lives lost, without them? The business owners in Socal who could have lost it all should offer as many jobs to ex-offenders as they can too.

It's sort of hard to decide whether this program is ethical or not, given how unethical is the system we have as a whole. Maybe the prisoner firefighters have served California in another way too -- by highlighting through their courage the moral bankruptcy of prohibition and the war on drugs.

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puregenius's picture

How right you are

There's no question that it's wrong to endanger the the lives of any non-violent offender in this manner. If any inmates should be participating in this program, it should be those that are automatically excluded, with the obvious exception of arsonists. The hypocrisy of this program is glaring. The establishment claims that drug offenders are a plague upon society, but they are able to perform a job that most are unable or unwilling to do. We certainly should be giving these individuals far more than a dollar a hour and a sentence reduction. They deserve nothing less than a clean slate.

I find it very telling that these offenders are described as effective and hard-working. These are the exact types of qualities prohibitionists claim drug offenders don't have. It's a strong indicator that with the right connections and lack of law enforcement involvement, drug use won't necessarily ruin your life.

potsmokers in general are the new witch being burnt

If this country lasts another 100 years,these witchburners will be met with the same scorn as the last.

george w. bush,rep souder of Indiana,karen tandy d.e.a. along with mr anslinger and tricky dick nixon will go down as a bunch of corrupt religious zealots. the former equated flying planes full of people into buildings full of people with sick people that smoked herbal medicines over highly addictive opioids which, the previously mentioned also condemn along with the providers of such in an effort to destroy over 230 years of freedom in the greatest known nation in human history for personal gain. Something no

other army or nation of the world could do for any reason. The later had plenty of sins of their own they should have been working out instead of seeking power over the people to tax and imprison.

History taught us there is no witch,no sasquatch,no woolybooger or Loch Ness tourist attractor. As history has repeated itself with these now Constitutional traitors it will once again find there is no witch. Thus sending the legacy of them and all involved into the pit of the Biblically illiterate and psychologically damaged satanic demons that professed evil to be good and good evil.

I am also "born again" and I have read and studied the same Bible as ole G.W. claims to read. I assure you he isn't talking to Jehovah God[maybe allah] because, what God says is "love thy neighbor as thyself" and the allah man says kill thy neighbor at all expense until he submits to your thinking.

what G.W. is doing doesn't line up with what the Good Book says. That is and I quote Jesus " what ever you do to the least of these you do to me". Forgive me for not possessing chapter and verse at this passionate moment. Just go to the 4 Gospels and you'll find it.

Let's not also forget

These self ordained false prophets as in ezekiel 13 seek their own glory and prophesy from their "own hearts" and not of the Spirit of God and "lean unto their own understanding".

The Holy scriptures have much to say about the "herb bearing seed". Of which the terms "and it was good" [see genesis 6th day of creation] and " it shall be meat for you" and "food and medicine" [ezekiel 47 :12 and gen 1:29].

There is absolutely no justification for killing people to save them from themselves. Neither is there a mention of the gov't getting your hard earned property except when the roman soldiers[the cop of the day} gambled over Jesus's possessions at the foot of the cross as our Savior suffered with mine,yours and their sins on him as He hung there abandoned and forgottten. Except by His mother, a friend named John and a woman supposedly of ill reput.

The damning thing was is it was all done with the wringing of the hands by the politician[pilot] and permission of the religious heirarchy of the day[local church] The san hedrin. Who were as blind as the reprobate people that couldn't care less....and they had no remotes, pcs or suvs to distract them from caring.

sound familiar? history does repeat itself because the self serving heart of man doesn't change. God Bless.

Please get an education (or a refund for the one you got)

Dude (Sir?), some of what you are saying makes sense, but please, please try to sound like less of a simpleton and appear like less of a middle-schooler instant messaging. Are you twelve years old? If so, please excuse the ad hominem and ask your English teacher to TEACH you. If not, you sound and type like one, which I hope isn't your intent.
To begin with, capitalization and other standard markers of style make your text easier to read; they are a courtesy to your reader. Secondly, please don't claim to be not as ignorant as Bush then expose yourself as equally ignorant for you piss-poor-pathetic generalizations about Islam. You think everyone who is a Muslim is a jihadist? You think the Koran actually says "kill thy neighbor at all expense until he submits to your thinking." Are you fucking kidding me with that Fox-News educated Forrest Gump IQ?
There are moderates, extremists, secularists, and everything in between in the Islamic world. Religion in these countries is often used to advance political ends (like here), and the leaders and demagogues of Islamic countries (like here) realize that there are many votes to be gained by playing on people's religious prejudices and ignorance (JUST LIKE HERE). Does Jerry Falwell represent all Christians? Since you are evangelical and may support Falwell or his ilk, the same question asked of the papacy and catholic church may better make my point to you.

Your ignorance about Islam and its adherents, as in viewing them all as "allalallahahalallahahhalalhlahal"-screaming jihadists is embarrassing. It is these ignorant fears that G.W. Bush has been able to play on in getting our underinformed electorate to vote for him.

Your appalling ignorance about Islam/terrorism/Koran is just as offensive and inexcusable as most voters' ignorance about drug war issues: both of them enable our leaders to pursue counterproductive strategies and even convince our citizens to tolerate ever-more-unconstitutional infringements on liberty.

P.S. I decided to reply to your post because some of your insights seemed quite intelligent, which seemed incongruous in light of the uber-ignorance you expressed elsewhere. I have become really annoyed when I notice how many people who are well informed about drug war issues are otherwise so ignorant. It's quite frustrating because such people irreparably harm the credibility of the drug reform movement -- to say nothing of providing fuel to the fire of all the skeptics who believe drug-user makes you stupid. I hate being associated with people who are so ignorant in the global sense, and it makes me seriously question whether I am in the wrong (since there seem to be so many ignoramuses also supporting the same cause). I just can't stand that the credibilty of the drug reform movement is so harmed by its association with the abhorrent illiteracy, pseudo-profundities, and feckless intellectualizing that is all too characteristic of some of its members.

As far as punctuation and capitalization, I realize that we don't have to always use them and that we can sometimes omit them without diminishing the meaning of what we are saying or making the text more difficult for the reader. However, you rarely capitalize anything except God, which inhibits the reader from digesting (without extra effort) what you are saying.

P.P.S. I don't intend to be as hateful as much of this comes across, but it is rather because we share mutual aims that I hope that through strengthening you, we can strengthen the cause. I liked the breadth of the allusions in your writing, and many things you were saying struck me with the fact that you couldn't possibly be as ignorant as you are coming across elsewhere. I don't know if it is from the Bible or elsewhere, but I really liked your poetic phrase "self-serving heart of man." So I hope you can understand that where I am hating, it is out of agape.


P.J. Mathews


Personally, I don't believe education has anything to do with common sense. Our gov't and your well written admonishment is evidence of that.

No, I didn't go to school. I grew up in the age of assistance programs for minorities and I didn't qualify. Besides,I had to work to feed my family. I have never gone hungry and if the infrastructure fails I won't be at the local food mart gut punching some old lady for the last can of corn....cause a country boy can survive.

I also want to ad that, Forrest Gump had more common sense in his pinky than most people today. He also had a very successful fishing business. Not failing to mention a very insightful look at a box of chocolate. It takes a great mind to find something so complex in something so simple.

I admit that I wrote this letter in the haze of the wee hours of the morning and I really didn't give a rat's ass about capitalization or punctuation. Actually I intentionally did not capitalize those names because I don't respect those people. Neither do I respect the rantings of a punctuation nazi. It only proves you had nothing to say.

Automatically you paint me with a broad brush tying me to a fundamentalist preacher and a news agency that, I respect however, I disagree with both on many levels. Another sign of ignorance on your part. I guess you also think I'm a republican? or a democrat?

Have you read the Koran? I have and it clearly says to kill the "people of the book"[Bible]. Which is their interpretation of Christians. Not only people of the book but, ANYONE that does not believe as they do. I suggest you get a copy and read it. It's not spiritually discerned like the Bible. Any idiot can read it.

BTW catholic starts with a capital "C". Am I getting smarter?

Just in case that isn't enough I read it with the help of a local from Egypt that had converted from Islam to Christianity. A man that was hiding here for his safety. You see, they behead converts.Period.

Your "hating" doesn't bother me because, it wasn't me or my lousy punctuation skills that irked you but, the mention of God and his Word. Your simple-mindedness[did i spell that right?] shows. You're eat up inside. You're like most cops. When there's no criminals/enemy to attack you manufacture some.

Your attempt to belittle my writing has little to do with the subject at hand. I usually don't waste my time responding but, with all the accusations,assumptions and arrogance you needed a little correcting.

It's people like you that draw divisions over petty garbage. You can't leave well enough alone. Your criticism is similar to the drunks in congress pointing their shaky fingers at smokers implying ones sin is bigger than the other's.

You need to learn to identify your enemies and your friends. If not you have one helluva battle ahead of you.

I also wanted to save you from your need to "strengthen" me. The local police are already on the job killing my pets, vandalizing my property and assaulting me with unmarked vehicles because, they didn't like my activist efforts or letters to the local paper.

Maybe it was because I didn't capitalize their name.

Modern slavery?

This practice of having prisoners work their asses off for either no or very little salary seems to be exploitative and reminicscent of modern slavery to me.

You're so right for calling attention to this issue. It's simply not right.

jail members

good....glad to know that there good for something. and not just getting a free roof over there heads with free food.

American HOLOCAUST. Make no mistake about it!

What are you? One of those (make-believe) "Christian" Republicans? You write as if the "free roof over their heads" includes sleeping accommodations with posture-pedic mattresses and fluffy down pillows/comforters and that the "free food" is good enough to bring to your mother for Thanksgiving dinner.

Come on now, the USA is an EVIL EMPIRE destined to go down in flames unless the American JELLYFISH (no backbone, they just go with the flow) wake up and take back control of the gov't.

you have no heart

Seriously, you have not an ounce of caring in your body to say something like that. You are also supremely ignorant. Have you not read anything on this site? Or are you just a troll. I would like to see you grow up in an urban ghetto surrounded by nothing but obstacles, get a piss poor education, and just by the sheer luck of your birth have a 1/4 chance of being in jail by your 24th birthday for something as outrageous as the color or your skin or nationality. Did you know that racial profiling happens ALL THE TIME? Did you know that some people who end up in jail don't belong there? Did you know that over 40% of our prison population doesn't belong in jail? I can tell you one thing. I'd rather meet and hang out with any of those 1,000 people who courageously and selflessly worked to save those homes and businesses from fire than spend a single second with you. In fact I don't even want to look at your pathetic, ignorant, cold, heartless, face, let alone think that there are people like you who even exist - no wonder the world is in this sad state of affairs - people like you DO exist.


How can we stand so judgementally (throwing stones if you will) saying that the people in our jails and prisons deserve worse than what they are already getting? If they were all just murdering rapists, or robbers, it would still be hard for me to stand in my self-righeousness to say they deserve it. Not that I do not abhore their deeds, and those that are truly evil need to be punished, but the fact is that our justice system is represented by a blinded lady with money scales. We are punnishing people for having a health problem! We are basing ones judgement on how much money they have. Not to mention the effects of black market on the intregrity of those hired to protect and serve. We have created a system that forces thoes unfortunates to adopt the ways of the wicked ones to survive. This school for the criminals we opt for in this country only re-enforces the criminal element. To say "Good they deserve to burn alive" to save a bankers house (the real criminal) is just as evil as pimping our sisters. It is a proven fact that there are innocent people suffering wrongfully, put there by people like you, because they have no money. If we all had a million dollars, the prisons would be empty.....shame on you!

D.L.Matkins Sr.

OMG...just read "get an education" dudes thing.

People like this deserve our government.....not me. Why me?

Wow this all went downhill fast!

I just want to say that I spent time in jail and am still on probation for growing marijuana (Cultivation). Nothing comfy about jail here in Maine! Jail here is overcrowded and humiliating. Non-violent drug offenders are housed with some nasty people. It does seem to be an easy way to get cheap labor. Many people's skills are exploited for the government in exchange for a few days off a sentence.

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