Lawmaker Speaks Out Against California Allowing Violent Inmates To Become Firemen

Jessie Cohen Contributor
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A California lawmaker is raising concerns about public safety as the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is moving to allow inmates with violent backgrounds to be employed as firemen, the Associated Press reports.

Currently, the only prison inmates allowed to be considered had to have no history of violent crimes. The department is attempting to add inmates convicted of harsh behavior within the next year. The proposal still needs to be approved by officials within the department, and by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, according to the AP.

As long as the inmates have a lower security classification level that comes with good behavior, they will be allowed to work.

“Arsonists, kidnappers, sex offenders, gang affiliates and those serving life sentences for murder and other crimes would still be excluded,” the AP reports.

Due to the decrease in workers for the largest and oldest inmate firefighting unit in California, officials are trying to find individuals to assist the professional firefighters. Inmates who have up to seven years would be allowed, instead of the five that is in place now. The program had originally employed about 4,400 workers and is now down to about 3,800.

Current drought conditions in Northern California has created high potential for extensive wildfires. These volunteers must pass a two-week physical training session, along with classes on fighting fires in order to join the team.

Corrections spokesman Bill Sessa told the Associated Press, “All it does is enlarge the pool of inmates we look at, but it doesn’t change the nature of the inmate that we put in camp. We still are not going to put an inmate in camp that has a violent attitude.”

Within the past 10 years the inmates working within the program have been found with weapons, along with committing hundreds of assaults and batteries. They are housed in unfenced security camps across California and are only guarded by few correctional officers. According to the AP, an average of nine inmates escape each year and only one has been recaptured since 2011.

A former parole commissioner and Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen feels that it is “unconscionable” to add to the risk by using inmates with a history of violence.

The number of inmates within these prisons has dropped since 2011 after the state moved to keep lower-level offenders in county jails. Officials say the proposal is a way of making up for the drop in the number of available workers.