Inmate firefighters helping combat a wildfire in Tehachapi, Calif., in… (John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles…)
The first California county has agreed to send some of its jail inmates to work at state prison fire camps, helping to patch a hole in the state's wildfire defense system created by prison realignment.
Riverside County agreed to pay the state $46.19 a day for each of up to 200 inmates it sends to the prison system's fire camps. The money is intended to cover the cost of housing and training the inmate laborers. A five-year contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was approved by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. County officials said the arrangement could cost as much as $17 million.
Corrections officials said the state currently has 3,800 inmates at 44 adult and juvenile fire camps, including five managed jointly with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature in 2011 sought to reduce prison crowding by diverting lower-level felons and parole violators to county jails. Those lower-level offenders also were the most eligible inmates for fire camp duty, where there is less security than in prison.
The result, corrections officials said, was a decline in the fire camp population of about 1,000 inmates.
The arrangement also helps Riverside cope with overcrowding of its jails, exacerbated by the portion of the state prison population it has had to absorb. The county released more than 6,900 inmates early in 2012.
Fire camp laborers also help clear fire breaks, maintain public roads and parks, and work on community projects.