California uses imprisoned women to fight record-breaking fires
Climate change, compromised liberty interests and capitalism breed conundrums. As California confronts historic wildfires, which killed at least 40 people, wiped out some 5,700 homes and left 400 people missing, people with fewer freedoms volunteered to help fight the fires. Women who are imprisoned contribute labor, along with traditional firefighters and men who are also imprisoned, to put an end to the blazes. The women reportedly get $2 per day for their work.
“We are the ones that do the line. We are the ones that carry the hose out. We’re the line of defense,” Sandra Welsh, a woman who is imprisoned at Malibu Conservation Camp #13 told NBC News.
The Daily Beast reported that 43 conservation camps exist across the state. Malibu Conservation Camp #13 uses female inmate labor “on wild land fire suppression as well as county conservation assignments, including maintenance of the State Beaches, and local parks and fire stations.” In California, the state department of corrections and rehabilitation partners with traditional fire departments to attack the flames. About 200 women who are incarcerated fight the California fires.
One corrections official explained which areas in California benefited from the women’s labor.
“We have female crews from other camps working on the Canyon Fire in Anaheim and also up in Napa,” Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the corrections department told NBC. “The crews from the Malibu camp are on standby and also have to provide back-up fire protection for L.A. County.”
While the inherent selflessness of fighting wildfires – most of which result from voluntary human activity – speaks to the intentions of many women entangled with prison industrial complex, labor exploitation issues also arise.
The prison industrial complex often fails to rehabilitate people who have deeper issues than making mistakes or poor decisions. Through a racially, ethnically and socio-economically skewed system, people experience longstanding punitive effects, including maximum work output and minimum or non-existent pay.
One Louisiana sheriff recently expressed dissatisfaction with work release programs that weave the formerly incarcerated back into society: “…They’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in the cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that where we save money,” Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator said.
The prison industrial complex includes an ecosystem where human beings experience inhumane conditions, including rape by officials and harm from other inmates, experiences lay people routinely rationalize as the cost of supposedly being the kinds of people who end up locked up. The complex includes an environment where people who are imprisoned, as was the case when Hurricane Irma barreled through the Caribbean and Florida, are also left in evacuation zones to deal with disaster fallout.
As the planet continues warming, natural and human-bred disasters will continue. If people do not collaborate for policy changes and advocacy for people in the margins, the capitalistic machine will let people with the least do substantially more than many others to deal with the effects.