California state fire camps allow low-level offenders to complete their time outside of prison walls and earn good behavior credits more quickly, reports Capital Public Radio. There’s a catch. The inmates must train to work as hand and support crews to back up professional firefighters during wildfires. Once a year inmates on hand crews must pass a series of qualifying tests. The state runs 42 adult camps, including three for women. They hold more than 4,100 inmates. Governor Jerry Brown wants to increase their ranks by 1,250. It’s part of his court-ordered plan to reduce overcrowding in California prisons.
Roy Evens is the Cal Fire Division Chief in charge of the Vallecito camp. “Bring ’em. We’d be happy to have them,” he says. Those that come should not expect an easy ride. Evens says the days spent fighting fires can be brutal. “It starts early and ends rather late,” he says. “It’s not uncommon for hand crews, during an initial attack, to be on the line for 36 hours.” That doesn’t faze 33-year-old inmate Daniel Palmer. He says being at the camp is hard, but it’s better than the alternative. “Being incarcerated, I spent a lot of time just on the yard, just wasting time,” he says. “Here we have grade projects when we don’t have fires, where we can go out and do things for the community. You know, make the world a better place while paying our debt to society.”