California 'stretched thin for crews' to fight 30+ wildfires throughout state, thousands must evacuate

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/08/19/california-stretched-thin-fo.html

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That’s on brand for 2020…

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There’s always that large pool of experienced formerly incarcerated fire crew workers that could be hired if we just changed the damn law.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-11-01/california-inmate-firefighters%3F_amp=true

https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article217422815.html?__twitter_impression=true

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Indeed. But we shouldn’t use incarcerated labor to do this work in the first place, of course.

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I’ve got mixed feelings about using incarcerated people for labor. Obviously we need to avoid the use of chain gangs and outright exploitation of prisoners for profit, which is immoral and creates a perverse incentive to incarcerate more people as a modern form of slavery. But as long as we as a society do continue to incarcerate felons (which we should do only when necessary, and much less than we do now) then we should have programs to provide useful education and job skills that they can leverage upon release. Designing those programs to not be exploitive is important, but I don’t know if that means that the workers can’t also accomplish something useful while they’re at it. My understanding is that prisoners actually volunteer to work these fire crews, as it’s preferable to sitting in a jail cell doing nothing.

The situation we have right now is all the more terrible because we can’t even pretend that the fire crew work is useful job training when they’re banned from these jobs upon release.

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Right, but as you note, this is not what is currently happening. It’s pure exploitation, which is part of the reason we have such a large prison population, the ultra-cheap labor pool that has no real say in what’s happening. This is doubly true for using prison labor in such a dangerous, life threatening job.

They can and they should be paid a living wage while doing so.

Doesn’t mean it isn’t exploitation, though, especially given their options.

Exactly!

I’d argue that a mix of education, job training, and useful actual work with the possibility of stashing away some money for once someone is released is the way to go… that and changing the laws around who can be a fireman (in this particular case). We really do have a system that prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation. That’s at the heart of all of this.

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I agree they should get paid more than they do now ($2 a day — plus a dollar for every hour they fight wildfires) but what do you consider to be a “living wage“ for an inmate?

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What’s a living wage for anyone? We tend to think they are getting housing and food, etc, for free, but it’s really not the case. It’s surprising expensive to be incarcerated, it turns out, especially if you want more than just basic meals (which in many places are well below what an adult needs calorie wise). So maybe that’s less than a living wage on the outside, but you also have to consider that at some point, this person will be getting out and it takes some cash to make the transition? And there are local conditions to consider - California is not Georgia is not Montana is not Vermont, etc.

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Yes, regardless of how much inmates get paid for prison work we need to end the exploitive, monopolistic practices of the private companies that provide those expensive phone calls and commissary items. But you still didn’t really answer the question. I really was looking for a rough number.

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So much smoke, and I’m nowhere near any of the fires… it’s bad.

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Damn, a few minutes ago I learned that an aunt’s house just burned down in another part of the state, as well as multiple relatives in the area getting evacuated.

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US$ 20 seems reasonable. I realize the US Constitution authorizes slavery but $2 an hour in ridiculous.

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$20 a day or an hour? I won’t argue against either number, but $20/hr is more than many civilian fire crew workers get paid.

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I don’t know, because I don’t know what the cost of living is in CA for the average person vs. the cost of housing/living for an inmate overall. We do know that $2 a day is not it… that might be the new gold standard for minimum, which is $15 an hour. I suspect that doing a job where you could very well die might should include higher pay than minimum wage.

Holy shit, dude! I’m so sorry! I hope they are all safe!

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That’s not the point of the linked article, or the comment.

" But while these men and women may work alongside professional firefighters now, once they get out of prison, their criminal record will make it virtually impossible for them to get hired as city or county firefighters."

“Formerly incarcerated.” So, you get trained to be a firefighter, then once you’re out of prison you cannot get a job because the law prevents you from doing so. So there’s a bunch of people sitting around, unable to fight fires because of a dumb law, while fires rage.

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So, I can’t discuss how exploitative it is to use incarcerated people because of the stupid law? You don’t see how those two things are linked?

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The entire point of using prisoners is to drive down labor costs, and by banning those same prisoners once they’re released from doing the same job with the regular pay and benefits, they are still saving on labor costs. One flows from the other, so I was making that argument to @Otherbrother.

At the end of the day, trying to skimp on labor costs isn’t solving the problem of wildfires in CA, which given how the past few years have been, they should have already figured out prior to this year’s fire season. There isn’t much excuse for not having figured out a solution to having enough people to do this work. Using prison labor that then can not do the job once freed is not helping. Otherbrother is correct that it’s a huge mistake to ban them, but as I said, that’s tied directly to the use of cheap prison labor to begin with.

Now if YOU think that’s off-topic, then flag it as such. Otherwise, I’d appreciate not being attacked for talking about the larger set of implications around prison labor in this particular case.

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This is strangely close to the Vigilis; I seem to remember that Rome’s fire service used a lot of Public Slaves too.

Incarcerated people are not available for firefighting right now because of the high rate of Covid in prisons.

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Yes, I know, and the spread of COVID in the prison system is a whole other shitshow. But if you look again at my comment I was referring specifically to the thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals, meaning the ones who have already served their time and are not in prison. As a group these ex-felons are more likely to be out of work than the general population, so if they weren’t blocked from being hired on fire crews that would potentially allow us to ramp up the numbers pretty quickly.

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