A group of California inmate hand crew firefighters camped outside of a fire in 2006.
Prison Labor

California Exploits Prisoners Sent to Fight Wildfires for $2 a Day

California uses prison inmates to fight its raging wildfires. They exploit their incarcerated status by only paying them $2 per day.


For only $2 per day, 3,400 prison inmates in California have been deployed to fight the wildfires. The inmates who are fighting fires include 58 juvenile offenders. They are all working alongside an army of 14,000 firefighters combating the largest wildfire in Californian history. The regular firefighters get paid $11 per hour, or $16.50 per hour for overtime. The least each are paid is $74,000 annually, excluding benefits.

Prison inmates who volunteered to help fight wildfires get paid a paltry sum of $2 per DAY. They get an extra $1 per hour in case of extra work.

To Redeem Their Honors, Over 200 California Female Prisoners Fight Wildfires to the Death

Dedicated Inmate Firefighters Become Jobless After They Get Released From Prison

Inmate firefighters face the same dangers while fighting wildfires as they other firefighters. The vast pay inequality between inmates and regular firefighters is a call for concern. Prisoner advocates condemn the pay disparity and the unfairness handed out to the incarcerated firefighters.

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When prisoners opt to fight unpredictable California wildfires, they put their lives on the line. They are there to save the lives and the property of residents in the fires’ paths. They should not only be paid accordingly, but recognized for their efforts. Does $2 per day do that?

The situation is even worse when you consider these same inmates who risked their lives are jobless once they are released from prison. Anyone would think they could be expected to join the fire service as employed firefighters. Of course, that is never the case.

A group of California inmate hand crew firefighters camped outside of a fire in 2006.
The practice of sending California inmates to fight fires is a controversial and long-standing one, as shown by the above image from 2006. Image Source: Mashable

To be employed as a firefighter in California, you must acquire the Emergency Medical Services license. How can an incarcerated inmate who fought wildfires hope to be employed to fight fires upon release if they do not have the required certifications?

California Government Should Not Exploit the Incarceration Statuses of Inmate Firefighters

In essence, inmates who volunteer to fight wildfires acquire years of experiences combating destructive wildfires. They will never get a chance for employment as a firefighter upon their release from prison. They become jobless and hopeless. Their prison experience doesn’t help them in real life.

This is simply because they are felons, locked away and couldn’t obtain the necessary certifications for the experience. It means their re-entry into society will not benefit them. Eventually, they may soon face recidivism.

CDCR Inmates Fight Wildfires for Pennies… Will They Come Home to Jobs?

To make matters worse, inmate firefighters who die in the line of duty do not get any death benefits. Families of regular firefighters receive compensations when firefighters die while fighting ravaging fires. But this is never the case for the prisoner firefighters who lose their lives combating fires. This is very unfair to the prisoners who sign up to help save lives and property, without caring if they lose their own lives in the process.

The state of California obtained instant help from as many as 3,400 prison inmates who knew nothing about the fire in the first place. The least the government can do is pay them fairly and not exploit their incarcerated status.

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Charles Omedo
Charles Omedo has a degree in Mass Communication and a PGD in Digital Communication. He worked as a newspaper/magazine reporter and editor for many years. Now, he writes daily news articles for private clients. Charles has written for US/UK/Canadian/Indian clients on various niches. He currently writes prison news for loved ones of inmates on the Prison Rideshare Network.