By order of the U.S. Supreme Court, California must reduce its prison population starting this year. A solution by Governor Jerry Brown and state Legislators will be to send low-level, non-violent felony convicts to county jail rather than state prison.
Dubbed “inmate realignment,” the program will also reduce the population at fire camps and crews like the Owens Valley Conservation Camp. The reduction statewide could be as many as 1,500 fewer inmates annually, down from 4,300.
Bart Chambers, Battalion Chief at the Owens Valley camp was unavailable for comments at press time.
Bishop Fire Chief Ray Seguine said that he does not yet know how the inmate reduction will effect the area. He did say that the inmate crews are “quite an asset” not only as firefighters but in helping in the community from filling sandbags to cleaning the Tri-County Fairgrounds.
Daniel Berlant, spokesperson for CalFire said that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is trying to work with counties to provide the facilities as a training area for county inmates. He explained that CalFire has the equipment and techniques to do the training.
County inmates could then be outsourced contractually with the state to assist with fire protection.
CalFire has been given the right to impose a $150 fee on every habitable dwelling in its service area, (more 800,000 dwellings) but Berlant said the only correlation with the inmate reduction and the fee is the state budget. Berlant said both are reactions to cuts to CalFire from the state.
It was announced Tuesday that California is on target with reducing its prison population. The first benchmark of reducing the inmate population by 10,000 by the end of 2011 has been met, Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a press release. As of Tuesday, the population in the 33 state prisons for adults dropped to 132,887.
California has the nation’s largest state prison system, meant to hold approximately 80,000 inmates but were housing more than 143,000 in May 2011 when the nation’s highest court made the order. The court ruled that the over-crowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and needless suffering and death.