USA – PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The wildfire season is expected to be a busy one and over the next two years, alongside fire crews will be prison inmates helping to clear debris.
Starting July 1, Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (AZDFFM) will be able to start putting 700 inmates on the on the ground. It’s part of a plan Gov. Ducey signed into law earlier this year and now women will play a role.
The Arizona Department of Corrections (AZDOC) and AZDFFM have a longstanding relationship allowing male inmates to work in the community as firefighters.
“Female inmates are sort of the stepchildren of the correctional system, so the jobs that they are offered are often old fashion stereotypical jobs, like sowing and data entry jobs,” said Donna Leone Hamm, Executive Director of advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform.
Hamm says the most important part of Governor Ducey’s 21.5-million-dollar plan for wildfire prevention and forest maintenance is the entry of women and Hamm says it’s something that female inmates want.
“Firefighting or fire brush clearing tend to level the playing field and provides them with a skill that would earn them a livable wage if they were able to leave the prison and work at these jobs as a profession,” said Hamm.
Inmates are paid up to $3 an hour, but Hamm says they get so much more than that when working outside the prison walls.
“Even though the wages are really low for prisoners they do learn a skill and could meet people that could ultimately be good connections for them in the community,” she says. “It’s just a worthwhile endeavor. It helps the community, and it helps inmates.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story mentioned “For the first time in Arizona history, women inmates will be part of the effort.” That line was incorrect and has been redacted from our story.