Hundreds of California inmates help battle wildfires, but realignment is reducing that number

Southern California Wildfire Burns Over 3500 Acres Of San Gabriel Mtns

David McNew/Getty Images

A 10 Tanker, DC-10 firefighting jet, flies through a smoky sky while dropping Phos-Check fire retardant as firefighters try to prevent the 3,500-acre Sheep fire from reaching the mountain town of Wrightwood, a half-mile away, in 2009 near Wrightwood, California.

Firefighters battling blazes across California this season are getting help from hundreds of minimum-security state prison inmates.

The inmates help construct fire lines in rough terrain where machines can’t go. Others help cook meals for firefighters at support camps.

They’ve been doing that for years. But Governor Jerry Brown’s realignment program is reducing the number of inmates available to help.

Jeffrey Callison is with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“A lot of these inmates who formerly would have been going to state prison to serve their sentence are now being sent to county jails," he said. "So we don’t have as much of that kind of population in the prisons now as we used to.”

Callison says the state has enough inmates for this fire season, but a new system will be needed in the long run.

That could involve using minimum-security inmates from county jails instead of state prisons.

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