Conservation (Fire) Camps
Holton Conservation Camp Inmates and Staff Featured in LA Now TV Profile
LA NOW Episode #45 Air Date: March 21, 2011. LA Now reporter Perrine Bakhshay takes an inside look at the inmate work crews that work alongside the Los Angeles County Fire Department as first responders in the fight against wildfires.... » More
Conservation Camp Mission
The primary mission of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Conservation Camp program is to provide the cooperative agencies with an able-bodied, trained work force for fire suppression and other emergencies such as floods and earthquakes. In addition, fire crews work on conservation projects on public lands and provide labor on local community services projects. The CDCR/CALFIRE annual operating budget is approximately $2.35 million per camp.
- There are 42 adult and two Division of Juvenile Justice Conservation Camps in California. CDCR jointly manages 39 adult and juvenile camps with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and five adult camps with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Nearly 4,000 offenders participate in the Conservation Camp Program, which has approximately 200 fire crews.
- CDCR’s Conservation Camps Program provides the State of California’s cooperative agencies with an able-bodied, trained workforce for fire suppression and other emergencies such as floods and earthquakes. Fire crews also work on conservation projects on public lands and provide labor on local community service projects.
- Adult inmates assigned to the camps are carefully screened and medically cleared. Only minimum custody inmates – both male and female – may participate in the Conservation Camps Program. To be eligible, they must be physically fit and have no history of violent crimes, as defined by the California Penal Code.
- The average sentence for adult inmates selected for camp is less than two years and the average time they will spend in camp is eight months. After being selected for camp, inmates undergo a vigorous two-week physical fitness training program and are then provided training for another two weeks in fire safety and suppression techniques.
- Juvenile offenders earn their way into camp placement. Wards must be medically fit, have between four and 36 months left to serve, must be free of major rule infractions, and have no history of escape with force or violence, as designated by State Law. Wards convicted of sex offenses or arson are excluded.
- Adult male inmates receive firefighting training at California Correctional Center in Susanville, Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo and California Rehabilitation Center in Norco. Female inmate firefighters receive training at California Institution for Women in Corona.
- In an average year, Conservation Camp Program inmates provide approximately three million person hours in firefighting and other emergencies, and seven million person hours in community service project work, and save California taxpayers more than $80 million annually on average.
- Community Service Projects: Projects completed by inmate firefighters in the off-season for local schools, counties, cities and other public entities, which results in cost savings at the local level (inmates earn approximately $1.45 - $3.90 per day for projects). Projects include clearing fire breaks, restoring historical structures, park maintenance, sand bagging / flood protection, clearing fallen trees and debris. While no official calculation has been factored for these projects, the deferred cost savings to State agencies, counties, cities and schools for non-emergency projects is significant in wage savings—in the millions—alone (5.2 million hours of work).
Conservation Camp History
NEW Online Camp Directory
CDCR launches Conservation Camp online directory with photographs, individual camp descriptions and contact information.» Go to Directory
The Conservation Camp Program was initiated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) commitment to have able-bodied inmates perform meaningful work projects throughout the state. The CDCR road camps were established in 1915. During the Second World War (WWII), much of the work force that was utilized by the Division of Forestry (now the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection [CALFIRE]) was depleted. The CDCR stepped forward and provided the needed work force by having inmates occupy "temporary camps" to augment the regular firefighting forces. There were 41 interim camps during WWII. In 1946, the Rainbow Conservation Camp was opened as the first permanent male conservation camp. Rainbow made history again when it converted to a female camp in 1983. The Los Angeles County Fire Department (LAC), in contract with the CDCR, opened five camps in Los Angeles County in the 1980's.