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US ACTIVISTS have blasted an “inhumane” and exploitative programme that sees prisoners paid as little as $2 (£1.57) a day to fight the deadly fires that are raging across California.
Concerns have been raised over the scheme, under which prisoners receive training and time off their sentences for good behaviour in exchange for volunteering to help battle fires.
More than 2,000 people are understood to have enlisted as prison firefighters, including 58 youth offenders, which the state government claims has saved it up to $100 million (£78m).
As many as 14,000 firefighters are tackling the fires. California firefighters receive an average of $74,000 per year plus benefits: the prison inmates earn just $2 per day with an extra $1 per hour while actively fighting fires.
Prisoners who live in one of 43 low-security field camps across the state are often called upon to fight fires. Critics warn that the system is exploitative and takes advantage of offenders’ desire to be released early from prison.
Wildfires are raging across the west-coast state. Its biggest ever blaze, north of San Francisco around Mendocino, has burnt 450 miles of forest and at least 75 homes have been destroyed along with 68 buildings.
The Carr fire, further north, has burnt 271 miles of land, with 1,077 houses having burnt down and more than 500 other buildings. At least seven people have died so far, with services struggling to cope with the fires.
Rights groups have warned against the exploitation of inmates and called for them to be paid a fair wage. Colour of Change director Clarise McCants branded the scheme “absolutely inhumane.”
She called for “big change so that people are actually treated fairly” — and for prisoners to be able to make a living once released.
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