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More than 300 inmates and 20 staff from the California Department of Corrections are continuing their around-the-clock battle against the latest flood threat as they put the finishing touches on the 3,500 foot berm protecting the community of Meridian in Sutter County.

Twenty inmate crews have labored since early Sunday morning to build a wall to protect the town from advancing flood waters. A levee break late Saturday allowed flood waters from the Sutter Bypass to pour into the surrounding agricultural land on a path to Meridian. Latest reports indicate the berm is doing its job.

Since the flooding began nearly a week ago, Corrections has dispatched over 1,000 inmates and 100 staff to fight the flood in 11 counties. They have been joined by inmates and staff from the California Youth Authority.

Flood fighting efforts have included:

  • Filling sandbags, shoring up levees, and clearing debris from drainage ditches
  • Cooking for evacuees and rescue workers at six mobile kitchens
  • Providing assistance to other agencies where needed

The inmates are normally assigned to the conservation camps, or minimum security prisons, located in rural areas. The camps house almost 4,000 inmates.

Inmates serve their sentences at conservation camps after passing a highly selective screening process and rigorous training. A typical inmate was convicted of a nonviolent offense, has an average sentence of two years and will spend about eight months in camp before parole.

When not fighting floods, inmates are dispatched to other emergencies and non-emergencies including fires, earthquakes, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal.

It is estimated that by using inmates state and local governments save millions of dollars each year that otherwise would be paid to accomplish the work inmates perform.