More than 2,500 prisoner firefighters are paid $1 an hour to fight fires in California, while regular firefighters earn an annual salary of $74,000, plus benefits (more video below).
Democracy Now notes “[a]ccording to some estimates, California saves up to $100 million a year by using prison labor to fight its biggest environmental problem.
Democracy Now interviewed incarcerated firefighters at the Delta Conservation Camp, a low security prison about an hour north of San Francisco.
While some officials claim the prisoners learn new employment skills, Amika Mota — a former prisoner firefighter made just 53 cents an hour — told Democracy Now that she could not get a job as a firefighter (video below):
I cannot become a firefighter in a municipal fire department. Most of those require EMS certifications, and as felons, we are blocked from getting that certification, although we were performing those duties while we were incarcerated.