‘That feels like redemption. It feels like being seen and recognized for somebody that I never thought that I could be,’ says inmate released in Oregon for fighting wildfires
This follows the state’s governor Kate Brown outlining her intentions to reduce the sentences of 41 inmates in June to honour their contribution to the wildfire efforts in 2020.
Ms Brown ordered the Oregon Department of Corrections to carry out the process on an individual basis on a 12-month commutation of their sentence.
Nayah Addington was let out of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility a year early due to her contribution to tackling the wildfire. She fought over three fire seasons.
“That feels like redemption. It feels like being seen and recognized for somebody that I never thought that I could be,” she told Fox 12.
In addition to fighting fires, Ms Addington also received training towards becoming an electrician.
Lt Justin Wylie, fire program manager at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, said that the women do the same job as any other firefighter.
“They dig hand lines, they operate chainsaws, do hose lays, all the stuff a normal wildland fire crew would do,” he told the news network.
He said that the programme began in 2015 and that crews from the prison are currently battling the wildfires engulfing the state. Two crews of incarcerated people are believed to be fighting the Bruler fire. Some incarcerated firefighters manage to get contract jobs after leaving prison. Other former inmates found employment in the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Inmates have been fighting fires in Oregon since 1953, according to the Department of Forestry. Their website states, it “allows adults in custody to gain valuable work skills while providing economic, social, and environmental benefits for Oregonians”.
Despite this, not everyone believes the practice is ethical or legitimate, such as US Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called the practice of using inmates to fight wildfires “slave labour” during a hearing on the Civilian Climate Corps bill. This proposed legislation seeks to create a wide variety of public-sector jobs that would aim to tackle the climate crisis, styled on some elements of Franklin D Roosevelt’s landmark New Deal. Instead of relying on cheap labour, it would create sustainable jobs.