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I would like to propose that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) expand its workforce program so more inmates can help fight and prevent the spread of California’s wildfires.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan provides a great opportunity to create jobs that make use of vocational skills inmates have learned. With massive construction projects planned around the state, CDCR can create a cost-effective workforce that state and private contractors can utilize.

CDCR administration should create an updated classification process that would make thousands of inmates eligible. This would include long-term offenders and lifers who have done their time and participate in all of the rehabilitation programs to regain their freedom and place in society.

I also propose that fire camps be extended to include more qualified inmates from level-two medium-security institutions as well as those who are incarcerated in the sensitive needs yard. They could cut down the burnt trees and harvest them to replant the forest, build small homes for the homeless and repurpose into prison-made furniture. 

From my 33 years of incarceration, I strongly believe these inmates would be unlikely to reoffend or violate the contract’s terms. 

We should develop a contract with the states where inmates can willingly and knowingly enter into all said terms of the contract. I propose earning 33% credit towards time served and a wage of $2–$3 an hour, as well as consideration of having a criminal record expunged. Ankle monitors, random drug testing and other safety precautions can be added in order to make this a reality. Those who violate the contract could get time added to their sentence. 

It is time to proactively give back to our communities, to regain their trust, respect and support. This is not only a major step in recognizing our self-worth, but it also develops a strong work ethic in the lives of these young men.

Scientists have said that with the effects of climate change, the deforestation of our precious rainforests and massive wildfires, our planet is getting hotter and hotter every year. It doesn’t seem like it will get any better because of our need for fossil fuels and production of greenhouse gasses. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) needs more firefighters. Even after maxing out its support system when fighting the Camp Fire in 2018, many lives were lost in the town of Paradise. Now, the town of Dixie has also been impacted. 

We can no longer allow these wildfires to burn out of control until they hit the firelines. We have to face these wildfires with manpower and year-round prevention. California needs to gear up for next year’s fire season and the years to come. We can no longer allow thousands and thousands of acres to burn out. We need our precious forest.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Ronald LeTourneau is a writer incarcerated in California.