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Dutchess_III's avatar

What do you think of the idea of using inmates as firefighters in times of great need like this?

Asked by Dutchess_III (46803points) November 15th, 2018
39 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

Here is an incendinary article from an extreme left wing source, which is why I take it with a grain of salt, the same way I take extreme right wing publications with a grain of salt.

Here is a much more balanced article.

What do you think?

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kritiper's avatar

I suppose it depends on what the convicts were convicted of. I don’t think persons on death row should participate…

Dutchess_III's avatar

@kritiper they would be pre screened and very low flight risk. Murderers and rapists not allowed, either. It’s like when I taught at the jail…I only got a certain kind of inmate, not the violent offenders.
We also have a minimum security facility at the edge of town. The inmates are outside a great deal of the time. The only thing that separates them from “freedom” is a 5 foot chain link fence. I think I’ve heard of only 2 attempting to escape in the 23 years I’ve lived here.

So that aside, what do you think of the idea?

kritiper's avatar

Difficult to say. If they were properly trained, no prob. But by the time they are trained, the damage would be done and the need would be gone.

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Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I think it’s great, I would jump at the chance to volunteer. Get outside, do something exciting.

The low (and no) pay is a separate issue that applies to all prison labor. The US Constitution specifically allows prison slave labor. Literal slavery, no exaggeration.

13th amendment – “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”

That’s messed up. Colorado passed an initiative last week banning it.

janbb's avatar

I’d prefer to see the army that is waiting at the border and/or the National Guard pressed into service fighting the fires but I don’t have a terrible reaction to prisoners being used. They should have to be volunteers though.

filmfann's avatar

Would they include arsonists and pyromaniacs?

Patty_Melt's avatar

My years living in Reno I saw lots of forest fires happen.
They did a news spot one time about prisoners used for fighting those fires.
The prisoner has to volunteer for it.
One of them interviewed was a woman.
It was something each seemed to feel strongly that it gives them an opportunity to feel like they were genuinely giving back, instead of just sitting in a cell further costing taxpayers to feed and house them.
With that in mind, I am totally for it. It gives prisoners a sense of self worth, accomplishment, a chance to repay public for their wrongs.

mazingerz88's avatar

As long as the inmates volunteer to help and not forced into it, then yes. They would be risking their lives and I find that admirable.

There was an article in the Washington Post written by the sister of a young guy in his 20’s who was in jail for years and fought fires.

The brother seemed to have benefited from doing this. He found meaning, purpose and sense of self-worth.

Sadly though he got killed. Not while in jail or fighting fires but when he was already out of prison.

zenvelo's avatar

It has been, for many years, a dignified way for convicts to “give back” in a constructive manner, performing something that requires a lot of hard work and dedication. It is voluntary, but it is the kind of work that builds their self esteem so that they can reform themselves before release.

The only change I would make is to pay them a bit more and give them time credit on their sentences.

Pinguidchance's avatar

Trained fire-fighters yes, otherwise you could request any volunteers.

Stache's avatar

Meh, it’s community service. If they are trained they are needed.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Is either article untrue? The prisoners ARE volunteers. Would they volunteer were they not prisoners?

MrGrimm888's avatar

The biggest variable in these fires, is the abundance of fuel. There were lots of smaller fires before Europeans got here. They started putting them out. So those little fires weren’t burning up old dead trees, and flammable stuff.

I’m not sure I like inmates fighting the fires. I would fully support a program that got them to remove as much flammable materials as possible. Put it in trucks, and go burn it somewhere safe…

JLeslie's avatar

Mixed feelings. I believe many ideas are sold as volunteer when it isn’t really the case a lot of the time. Retailers like Best Buy and Target have almost all of America believing the people working at midnight Thanksgiving eve volunteered and are happy for the work. BULLSHIT! Prisoners might feel pressure to volunteer to get in good favor with wardens or straight out be forced into it. Not that I think this will necessarily be the case, but it’s a possibility I’m wary of. Especially, if private prisons can make a profit from it.

I’m sure many prisoners would be happy to be able to contribute and feel useful, and then they leave prison with this training. That’s all good. I saw a show about one of the Nordic countries where prisoners get to leave prison to work and I think they were able to see their families as well. It seemed to be working well.

ragingloli's avatar

‘Disposable people’

ucme's avatar

I mean yeah, who gives a shit if they burn & die right?
Sounds like a half arsed idea dreamed up by idiots, they should stop arson about.

LostInParadise's avatar

There should be greater emphasis on providing criminals with job skills. This could include firefighting training for those who are interested. Those with proper training could then be offered decent pay for help in fighting fires.

KNOWITALL's avatar

The training is not easy. My friend did it and got paid well to do it. Some of them still die. Maybe with prison reform more programs can be created like the dog traing program that has proven benefits for prisoners.

notnotnotnot's avatar

I do not support the exploitation of prisoners in any way. And any work that a prisoner does should be subject to current labor laws, including wages, etc. Note: I think prison labor should actually be held to higher standards and wages due to the inherent problems with the whole system.

The fact that people attempt to justify the brutal prison-industrial complex as something positive is disgusting.

Patty_Melt's avatar

The firefighters I know of are trained quite well, and lots volunteer who don’t get accepted.
They don’t just round up a few inmates at random, give them shovels, and dump them off at a raging inferno.
It is not the only training or rehab program offered in prisons. It is simply the one we are discussing now.
I have seen breaking horses to ride, training dogs for various duties, and others I can’t remember just now.

Dutchess_III's avatar

If it’s voluntary, @notnotnotnot, it’s not exploitation. I think any wage is fair. After all, they have no bills.

@zenvelo it does credit to time served. In the second article, by cnbc it says “They also earn time off their sentences.”

@MrGrimm888, your comment that there were only “small fires” before the Europeans came is nonsense. When fires get as big as these current ones, they burn anything in their path, living or dead. There may have been fewer of them, becaise in days of old the fires were probably caused by lightning, but they got just as big and wild as the ones today do.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Patty_Melt My husband had a friend inside that did the dog training program and it was EVERYTHING to him. Changed his life, and he was always a dog lover. I fully support those, but no idea on wages tbh.

notnotnotnot's avatar

@Dutchess_III: “If it’s voluntary, @notnotnotnot, it’s not exploitation. I think any wage is fair. After all, they have no bills.”

Of course it is. It’s exploitation of the prisoners, the taxpayers, and the working population as a whole. Not everything is an isolated issue. The entire prison system – from drug laws, sentencing, prosecution, to private prisons and prison labor is a much larger issue than what you are talking about here.

Please look into the whole concept of the prison-industrial complex, and how it is really a perpetuation of slavery. We fund this through private prisons, and through these work programs that have prisoners producing goods and getting paid peanuts for their labor.

And if you just take this fire situation – if prisoners are doing the work and getting paid less than average firefighter salaries, it is stolen wages or slave labor. There is an incentive to fill prisons due to profit motive for both prisons and slave labor. There is a reason why the US imprisons more of its people than any other country.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I have worked in a jail. My students jumped at the chance to sign up for class, just to get out of their cells. My students would have really jumped at the chance to get outside and work.
I agree there is a lot wrong with our prison system, but giving prisoners the opportunity to work, and to learn new skills, while paying them, is not one of them.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Dutch. No. There were not fires as big as modern ones. At least according to a couple articles I have read. The Europeans saw fire (any fire) as needing to be extinguished. The forests used to naturally clean up all the debris that makes our current fires burn so quickly, and spread so fast.

Controlled burnings are a common thing in my area. It’s not anomalous to have small fires burning for days in our national forest. I think the conditions are better for that strategy in my area.

Physically removing debris, from strategic places, could help the fires from spreading so fast. It would be a massive project though. I’m not sure if it is a logistically viable option.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Of course they were as big as modern day fires! The trees from 500 years ago were the same trees we have now! They live and die the same way.

Actually, that is what the prisoners do…they live in camps in the woods and clear debris from the path of the fire. They aren’t actually fighting the fires alongside the firefighters.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Of course they were as big as modern day fires! The trees from 500 years ago were the same trees we have now!

But nobody was suppressing fires, so they (fires) cleared out the fuel more often.

I’m not an expert, this is something I found with a quick google:

Forest History Society – ...Until around 1970, federal land managers remained obsessed with controlling large fires. But during the 1960s, scientific research increasingly demonstrated the positive role fire played in forest ecology. This led in the early 1970s to a radical change in Forest Service policy—to let fires burn when and where appropriate. It began with allowing natural-caused fires to burn in designated wilderness areas. From this the “let-burn” policy evolved, though it suffered a setback in the wake of the 1988 Yellowstone fires. Since around 1990, fire suppression efforts and policy have had to take into account exurban sprawl in what is called the wildland-urban interface. Another issue the Forest Service now faces is that fires have grown in size and ferocity over the last 25 years.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I have read that in the past, that, if at all possible just letting them burn is the best thing to do.

Thank you @Call_Me_Jay. Did they say WHY they’ve grown in size and ferocity?

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Did they say WHY they’ve grown in size and ferocity?

Another quick google has possibilities:
The west is warmer and drier
Fire suppression still leaves lots of fuel
Beetles leave dead trees (I’m in Colorado every fall and I’ve seen this)
Earlier snowmelt and later snowfall

FiveThirtyEight – Wildfires In The U.S. Are Getting Bigger

Columbia University – Climate Change Has Doubled Western U.S. Forest Fires, Says Study

janbb's avatar

The other thing I’ve been reading is that people are settling closer to the big wooded areas in California so the fires are more destructive of life and property. Too much population cluster on the coasts.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

@janbb Good point, thank you. The development also means they can’t let fires burn and clean up the brush. Then the severe fires destroy the roots holding the soil together, which leads to mud slides.

John McPhee wrote about this 30 years ago, in a New Yorker essay. He’s one of my favorite non-fiction authors.

The New Yorker September 26, 1988 – Los Angeles against the Mountains

It’s included in his book The Control of Nature

janbb's avatar

^^ He’s an excellent writer.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I heard that there are over 1,000 missing now. My god… It’s like some horror movie. A whole town burned alive. Ironically named Paradise.

zenvelo's avatar

There was an excellent series on wildfires on the Outside Podcast this summer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It is horrifying, isn’t it @MrGrimm888. ;(

MrGrimm888's avatar

^It is. A lot of the stories that I heard were of people fleeing through the woods. I imagine that they’ll be finding bodies/bones in the area for a long time…

Dutchess_III's avatar

I hope not @MrGrimm888.
And trump is blathering about rakes and Finland and shit.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Yeah. We both know he’s just an idiot. No doubt he’s jealous of the attention too. Ya know he’s the real victim…

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