Thousands of felons are on the front lines of California’s forest fires

Grist

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Here’s a kind of crazy stat: Between 30 and 40 percent of California’s forest firefighters are state prison inmates. The state has become a tinderbox of sorts from a four-year drought, and roughly 4,000 low-level felons are on the front lines of the state’s active fires. Here’s what’s going on:

Why are prisoners fighting fires? For years, California’s prison system has operated a number of “conservation camps,” in which low-level felons in the state prison system volunteer to do manual labor outside, like clearing brush to prevent forest fires or fighting the fires themselves. A handful of other states have similar programs, but California’s program is by far the largest, with roughly 4,000 participants. At its best, the program is a win-win situation: Inmates learn useful skills and spend time outside…

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