When flood waters erupted over large parts of Northern and Central California on January 2, 1997, inmates and staff with the California Department of Corrections (CDC) formed the backbone of Californiaís flood-fighting forces. Between January 2 and January 10, more than 2,000 inmates and 164 staff lent their labor to flooded communities throughout the State.
Inmates provided an estimated 251,856 hours of assistance during the height of the floods and continue to labor in those areas where flood waters are still high or debris clogs and litters the landscape. CDC staff worked more than 17,250 hours supervising the inmates.
- 129 inmate crews filled and stacked millions of sandbags in at least 20 counties.
- Inmates from Wasco State Prison filled and stacked sandbags to shore up Poso Creek, while other crews were on alert to protect the town of Wasco.
- Eight crews from Deuel Vocational Institution laid sandbags around the perimeter of the institution while others worked shoring up nearby levees.
- As flooding receded in some areas, crumbling and weakened levees further south gave way and the
- San Joaquin River and its tributaries covered new ground. Inmates dropped sandbags around the levee boils (where water was leaking through the levee) to protect walnut groves and subdivisions.
- Two inmates crews from California Rehabilitation Center traveled to San Joaquin County to lend their help to sandbagging efforts.
- Eighteen crews–274 inmates–worked throughout the Delta sandbagging and shoring up hundreds of miles of levees protecting the five different counties. Millions of sandbags were filled and distributed throughout the area.
- In Sutter County, 31 crews–453 inmates and 36 staff–worked around the clock for days building a 4,700 foot make-shift berm to protect the small community of Meridian. Their work contributed significantly to the success of the protection effort as the levee held. Their hard work also won praise from Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein who visited the area and took a turn on the inmate sandbag line.
- Community inmate crews from the California Correctional Center worked under the direction of the Lassen County Office of Emergency Services filling sandbags to protect Susanville homes andbusinesses.
- Throughout Sutter County, inmate crews staffed mobile kitchens which fed over 100,000 meals to evacuees and rescue workers. Another dozen crews staffed mobile kitchens in Humboldt, Colusa, Yuba, Solano, and San Joaquin counties.
- When a fish hatchery along the San Joaquin River was inundated with flood waters, many vehicles were submerged. When the waters receded, Fish and Games officials delivered the vehicles to Central California Women’s Facility where inmates checked them for damage.
- In the Butte County community of Orland, crews helped set up 300 beds at an evacuation center.
- When the banks of Sutter Creek threatened to overflow its banks, 68 inmates were deployed to help contain flooding and evacuate residents. Another crew of 20 inmates helped to clean out the flooded basement of the Sutter Creek auditorium.
- Inmates from Mule Creek State Prison assisted in evacuating a mobile home park and helping with flood-related problems in Ione.
- As flood waters receded, inmate crews cleared out debris left behind by the raging waters.
In addition to the work performed by inmate crews and correctional staff, other CDC employees participated in life-saving efforts. Correctional officers from Folsom State Prison, California State Prison-Sacramento, and other institutions were activated by the California National Guard. Two of the officers performed courageous life-saving acts piloting a rescue helicopter and snatching victims from the raging flood waters. Others are still volunteering with the Red Cross and other emergency response agencies.
All told, flood fighting efforts by CDC staff and inmates contributed significantly to life and property saving measures throughout the state. CDC officials estimate that staff and inmate labor amounted to over $2 million in value.