The Latest: Officials say violent inmates long fought fires
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The latest on California’s use of prisoners with violent backgrounds to fight wildfires (all times local):
A state lawmaker is calling for an oversight hearing after California corrections officials revealed that about 1,400 of the state’s 3,700 inmate firefighters have previous convictions for violent offenses.
Officials previously claimed for years that only nonviolent inmates were allowed in the program, but they said Wednesday that inmates convicted of violent crimes actually have been serving since at least the 1990s.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber, the ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee, says his committee should investigate the use of inmates with violent pasts. He wants corrections officials to disclose their criminal histories and acts of violence in the unfenced, lightly guarded camps that house the firefighters.
Mike Lopez is also calling for an investigation as president of the union that represents professional firefighters who oversee inmates on the fire lines.
California corrections officials say that nearly 40 percent of the state’s inmate firefighters have previous convictions for violent offenses.
In a sharp reversal from the agency’s claim for years that only nonviolent inmates were allowed in the program, corrections spokesman Jeffrey Callison says they have been serving since at least the 1990s.
Callison says the department gave The Associated Press and others inaccurate information. He blamed the misstatement on differing definitions of what constitutes a violent background.
The disclosure Wednesday shocked officials with the state’s firefighting agency and the union that represents professional firefighters who oversee inmates on the fire lines.
Firefighters union president Mike Lopez called for a full investigation. He says he’s very concerned that firefighters did not know they were working alongside inmates with a history of violence.