California’s Inmate Firefighters Still Denied Visitors, Unlike Prisons

by on July 9, 2021 · 1 comment

in California, Civil Rights

by Jill Castellano / inewsource / July 1, 2021

Hundreds of California inmates will charge to the front lines of rapidly spreading wildfires this summer, risking injury and death in exchange for shorter sentences and a few dollars a day.

When the flames recede, they will return to their living quarters at one of 35 low security camps, where picnic tables and barbecues once bustled with families — a perk that higher security prisons don’t allow.

Now, the inmates have the grounds to themselves.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation banned in-person visits at all fire camps and prisons when the COVID-19 pandemic began about 16 months ago. As infection rates slowed in March and April this year, prisons opened their doors again. But at the camps, inmates and their families are still waiting for in-person visits to restart.

Asked by inewsource about the ongoing ban, prison officials said they are working through logistical challenges and are in the “final stages” of developing medical and safety protocols for in-person visiting. They wouldn’t explain why it has taken this many months to reinstate outdoor visits, which pose a low risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, or provide a timeline for when visits would resume.

“California is entering its peak fire season and (the department’s) evaluation includes operational issues, including campers being called to respond to a fire on short notice,” corrections department spokesperson Terri Hardy said in an email.

The families of three inmate firefighters said they have watched optimistically in recent months as state officials lifted COVID-19 restrictions at nursing homes, restaurants and other establishments, hoping the same would soon happen at fire camps. The visitation policy has lowered morale at the camps, they said, and deprived their loved ones of much needed human connection.

Why this matters
Firefighters suffer high rates of injury and death on duty compared to other professions. Incarcerated people who join California’s firefighting force are exposed to hazardous conditions as they battle increasingly intense and destructive wildfires.

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Frank Gormlie July 9, 2021 at 10:35 am

This issue is close to my heart as I used to one of these. Long ago. Visitors helped keep us sane.


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