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Prison Inmates Fighting California's Deadly Fires
As California faces record-breaking blazes across the state, its Department of Corrections tweeted this week that more than 2,000 inmates are working as firefighters, prompting new debate over this aspect of prison labor.
While California's inmate firefighters are volunteers, they earn just $1/hour in the field—working alongside salaried firefighters who earn an average of $74,000 per year—and are mostly unable to apply for a state fire job upon their release from prison.
"There are some days we are worn down to the core," incarcerated firefighter La'Sonya Edwards told the New York Times last year. "And this isn't that different from slave conditions. We need to get paid more for what we do."
"Look, the biggest, most important thing is putting out the fires," Lisa Graybill, Deputy Legal Director at Southern Poverty Law Center told Newsweek. "And in my experience, prisoners are so eager for the chance to work and chance to demonstrate their rehabilitation that they'll accept any work conditions. But they shouldn't be exploited by the state. They're putting their lives on the line like other California firefighters, and they should be paid fairly for a fair day's work."
For a deeper dive:
- Inmates Have Fought California's Wildfires Since WWII - The Atlantic ›
- Firefighters, inmates fight California wildfires - CNN Video ›
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By Teju Adisa-Farrar & Raul Garcia
In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, DC. It read, "White man's roads through black men's homes."
Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation's capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.