California Inmate Firefighting Training Center to Close as Governor Works to End Mass Incarceration

California wildfire smoke with firefighters on sceneCalifornia wildfire smoke with firefighters on scene
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The California Correctional Center in Lassen County, which houses a firefighting training center, is slated to close in June 2022.

California is preparing to shut down one of its main training facilities for inmate firefighters.

The California Correctional Center in Lassen County is scheduled to close in June 2022, NBC News reported. Its fire training program will be relocated to the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, according to NBC. That facility is located about five hours south.

The closing of the 58-year-old prison comes as part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s larger push to end mass incarceration.

Prior to this decision, Newsom signed a bill last September that would speed up the process of felony record expungement for those who participated in the firefighting program. 

The goal of this bill was to make it easier for those who had been previously incarcerated to obtain their EMT certification, which is often a necessary part in becoming a professional firefighter. 

The decision to shut down the program has been met with pushback from some who point out the area's heavy reliance on the inmate population to manage the state’s wildfire issue.

“We are in desperate need of these programs,” Brandon Dunham, a former U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management firefighter, told NBC. He also acknowledged the program could be compared to indentured servitude. 

“Can it be looked at as some form of indentured servitude or slave labor? Yes, it could be,” he told NBC. “However, these programs are absolutely crucial to the success of a national fire program.”

Not accounting for any prison fees or per diem rates, the inmates within the program receive $1 per hour for their labor. Those outside of incarceration in California who pursue firefighting professionally make an average of $19/hour in their first year, and can make as much as $65/hour as an experienced member, according to CareerExplorer

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