Board of Supervisors Considering Putting Inmates to Work as Firefighters

The Board of Supervisors is expected to approve Tuesday a new contract with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation that assigns Riverside County inmates to state conservation camps for firefighting operations.

The county began contracting with the CDCR in May 2013 for locally jailed inmates to participate in the California Conservation Camp Program. The contract on the board's Tuesday agenda would span the period from this July 1 to July 1, 2022.

Under the agreement, the county would be eligible to assign a maximum of 200 inmates to train and work in the program. The previous compact provided space for as many as 500 inmates.

The county would pay the state $81 a day per inmate for training, and afterward, $10 daily per head for use of fire camp space -- the same terms that applied under the expiring agreement. If all 200 slots are filled, the county's total outlay for the three-year period would be just over $4 million, according to sheriff's documents.

However, officials pointed out that expenditures eventually would be reimbursed through Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act.

Inmates who finish the 38-day training regimen are deployed to work on hand crews to battle wildfires, as well as reduce excess foliage in parks, cut firebreaks in the vicinity of homes and businesses, clear debris from roadsides and trails and participate in sandbagging for flood prevention.

In recent years, the average number of Riverside County inmates who qualified and stayed in the program was about 50. They're generally placed at camps in the Norco and Banning areas.

County fire officials have noted in the past that offenders are screened for suitability, and people convicted of drug- and alcohol-related crimes are typical of those accepted into the program.

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, a former firefighter, has been a steadfast supporter of the fire camp concept and advocated for the county to take advantage of it during his first year on the board, citing the manpower benefits, as well as the opportunity to free up local correctional space.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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