Opinion

California's Incarcerated Firefighters

2018-09-14 09:59 #0 by: Evelina

"Behind the scenes of California’s raging climate-fueled wildfires with the hidden men and women on the front lines of the state’s ever-growing fire season: prisoner firefighters. Of the 13,000 firefighters battling blazes across the state, more than 2,500 are prisoners. While salaried firefighters earn an annual mean wage of $74,000 a year plus benefits, prisoners earn $1 per hour when fighting active fires. According to some estimates, California saves up to $100 million a year by using prison labor to fight its biggest environmental problem." - Democracy Now! 

Low security prisoners in California have been working as firefighters to help battle the California wildfires for years. They earn just 1$ an hour, and for every one day they work, they get two days off of their sentence. And although they work shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the 'real' firefighters, they are not able to work as firefighters when they get out of prison. This is because there are laws in place, which do not allow felons to get the licensing to become a firefighter. 

Do you think this is fair? Should prisoners who have been working as firefighters be able to use the firefighting skills they have learned as a prisoner to be able to better-transition to society and work as a firefighter when they get out of prison? Do you think they should get paid more while they are in prison? Do you think they should get more time off their sentence for working as a prisoner firefighter? Do you think felons should be able to vote? 

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2018-09-14 10:46 #1 by: Niklas

Being able to do good work to reduce a prison sentence sounds like a good idea. Having felons just sit and wait for a sentence to end is expensive and rarely will make them law-abiding citizens.

If the prisoners volunteer to work and get food and what's necessary to live in prison, perhaps the low salary isn't a problem. The reward is a reduced sentence.

I don't know what the reasoning behind not letting them work as firefighters after prison time is. To me it sounds like a good way to keep them away from crime and I can't see what harm they could do as firemen.

Do you mean vote in prison or afterward?

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2018-09-14 10:50 #2 by: Evelina

Sorry, should have been more clear. In California felons in prison cannot vote. But once they are on parole and have completed parole they are eligible to vote again. Several other states allow prisoners to vote.

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2018-09-14 12:06 #3 by: Niklas

I'm not sure I have a firm belief when it comes to allowing or not allowing voting for prisoners. I think that if they know beforehand that they will lose voting rights if they are caught committing crimes, it shouldn't be a big problem. It will be part of the punishment. People being wrongfully convicted of crimes is a much bigger and problematic issue.

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2018-09-14 12:23 #4 by: Evelina

I don't know if I have a strong belief about it either, but the more I think about it, the more I think it is wrong. 

First off, I feel like it further dehumanises them, which leads to greater exploitation. My thinking is related to how slaves (and women) were not allowed to vote because  they were perceived as less than. 

Second, there are so many injustices when it comes to the criminal system in the US (many of which most of us who have not been imprisoned are completely blind to) and I think prisoners should be able to vote to change those issues and other ones too.  Who else would vote to change these injustices?

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2018-09-14 15:04 #5 by: Niklas

There is one big difference compared to slaves and women. Women and slaves did nothing to deserve the kind of life they had. Prisoners (hopefully most of them) knew before they committed crimes that they had certain punishments attached to them, if caught. That, to me, makes a world of difference. That said, prisoners should always be treated as humans as much as possible. Locking someone in is, in itself, an inhumane way to treat people, but what else can we do to prevent or punish crimes?

I think there would be people voting against injustices to prisoners. Otherwise they wouldn't have the chance to change the system anyway since there are fewer prisoners than the rest of us.

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2018-09-14 15:07 #6 by: Niklas

Another thing that is important to take into account, is that a prison sentence isn't just a punishment for the prisoner. It effects the family and friends of prisoners too. In some ways probably more and worse.

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