San Diego Transfers Low-Level Prisoners To Help Fight Wildfires
ALISON ST. JOHN: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition, I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. The contract between San Diego law enforcement and the state will send low-level offenders out. It takes the pressure's off of jails and gives the chance for prisoners to be more productive and helps protect one of the biggest regions from wildfires that start in the backcountry. Today I am speaking with Lieutenant Wayne Brooks. Not so long ago I remembered that we heard that some of the fire camps in the city and county were close to budget cuts. Are they saying the same for these fire camps? WAYNE BROOKS: The these are entirely different fire camps. These are run by Cal fire. ALISON ST. JOHN: How many of them are in San Diego? WAYNE BROOKS: Are inmates were going to four of them. ALISON ST. JOHN: Tells us more about them. WAYNE BROOKS: We have two male camps and two female camps. ALISON ST. JOHN: Low-level offenders all over the state including people from San Diego? How many inmates are from San Diego? WAYNE BROOKS: Currently we have six. We're in the process of screening. And as more people get sentenced to the required sentencing of 1178, they are serving time for felonies in local jails, we screen them. ALISON ST. JOHN: What potential does it have of taking low-level offenders out of jails? WAYNE BROOKS: The target number is a hundred. ALISON ST. JOHN: How important is this? WAYNE BROOKS: In October 2011 that public safety realignment AB109 was signed into law and it basically changed the sentencing of 500 felonies to where it's the instead of these sentencing now they would serve the time in local custody in the county jails. So this puts a burden on the bed spacing in county jails where these people would've gone off before it opened off a bed for the for new arrests and for County inmates to be in the bed another state with a cell bed situation has increased in usage. ALISON ST. JOHN: How do low-level offenders get selected? WAYNE BROOKS: It's a voluntary process and once the inmate is sentenced to one of 500 low-level felonies, they put in a request to be screened to get a car. It has several current criteria to it which is state standards. They have to have a list for half years to serve after they've applied their credits. They cannot have any serious felonies which include rape robbery arson and murder, they can have no chronic medical issues because they are going to be the backcountry working fires of getting medical care to them is an issue. ALISON ST. JOHN: Are they going to stay there for the full four and half years? WAYNE BROOKS: Yes they would stay at the camps for the whole time, they would stay there until they go back for processing for relief. ALISON ST. JOHN: So this is not short-term, this is when is spend their time? Who monitors and supervises them? WAYNE BROOKS: Cal fire and CCR supervise the inmates out there giving them continuous training in fire protection firefighting and supervising their behaviors and providing them with all of their necessary items while they're there. These were the same classification of inmates prior to AB109 would've gone to state prison. ALISON ST. JOHN: Are these fire camps more stringent than County fire camps used to be? WAYNE BROOKS: I have no knowledge what the county does. ALISON ST. JOHN: So how popular this program to inmates and how many volunteer? WAYNE BROOKS: We have rush of applicants about 227 inmates applied for the fire camps. It is in itself a popular program. ALISON ST. JOHN: Do they the compete with each other to get placing? WAYNE BROOKS: Now our target is one hundred beds. One hundred beds and we only have six right now. It's a matter of the meeting the criteria. It has to be that way. ALISON ST. JOHN: There are more people that want to go than are places? WAYNE BROOKS: There are more places than qualified people. ALISON ST. JOHN: What are the things that make it hard to find the right person to go? WAYNE BROOKS: The criminal history and background and what crimes they have committed the past and that had the walkways or escapes from any type of some facility, and in medical issues, no chronic medical issues or even have seen a bone specialists or anything for bone breaks, clinical issues. ALISON ST. JOHN: What kind of felonies are we talking about? WAYNE BROOKS: Drug offenses of the defenses, anything not violent nature. ALISON ST. JOHN: What vital do these inmates play? Have there always been offenders out there for a while? WAYNE BROOKS: They can respond anywhere in the state. Anywhere for a while fire. Even to bordering states. About the city has about 4000 firefighters out there that are inmates in their spots and with AB-109 that number was cut back drastically. That's why there now contracting with the county to replace the spot is because they are a fighter vital part of the fire prevention programs in the state. ALISON ST. JOHN: And they need more people to help bolster Cal fires efforts. How much time are we actually in the Purses out around the state fighting fire? WAYNE BROOKS: That would be something for Cal fire to answer because it depends on how active the fire season is at the time ALISON ST. JOHN: That would about how this benefits the inmates? WAYNE BROOKS: Get some some skills marketable spoke skills with their release from cuts to be to go and try to find a job in the firefighting community. They will receive full firefighter training for wildfires enforce fires and brush clearing and fire abatement. They are marketable skills. ALISON ST. JOHN: To have any evidence that folks from the fire have committed the ranks of firefighting? WAYNE BROOKS: They have had prior inmates that are now working in Cal fire positions dropped the state ALISON ST. JOHN: And presumably there is something attractive about it because it's an incentive that they now that this might work for them when they get out? It's an incentive for them to volunteer. WAYNE BROOKS: And as we've learned over the years putting people and make prison for County jail and not giving them any trading or any incentives or resources to get back into the community, it hasn't worked. We just put more people in. The whole be entry community any connection is going on right now in California and this is part of that. ALISON ST. JOHN: We talked to body tomatoes yesterday took help people begin it really be back to the committee and I know you said that we heard about this program that you are very attracted to it what do you find is so talked about this? WAYNE BROOKS: When they come out of custody they can be a member of society and they can have a member of this and they have a sense of a competent. I have not talked individually to inmates but a couple have been to see fire camps before state prison. ALISON ST. JOHN: One of the big issues with realignment is helping the people out of jail and the cycle. To have statistics of other people who have been to fire camps reoffend less often? WAYNE BROOKS: We don't because her program is so new and I have conversed with anyone and state level to find out. ALISON ST. JOHN: That would be a key issue. What about the costs, I understand the county is paid the state for this? WAYNE BROOKS: We are paying the state $46.19 a day. That is a little lower than our current cost which is $131 on average for prisoners in jail. ALISON ST. JOHN: So it's less inspected for keeping someone County jail but they are incarcerated environment, is it something with walls around it and guards or how to assist security get maintained? WAYNE BROOKS: It's an open with barracks at training facilities. It is open and they are out in rural areas not close to cities or towns. The biggest incentive to stay there is that they are serving time, if they were to escape or walk away they add more time to a sentence. They get the incentive of 2-for-1, for everyone day that they are in the fire They received today's credit. It's cutting their sentence in half. Rather than using laws to keep them on the job it's right on the incentives. ALISON ST. JOHN: There is so much of this a low-level felon might very well benefit from, other any other professions that are being developed? That maybe people can go serve so there is not such a huge transition when they leave and serve the time? WAYNE BROOKS: Currently our East Mesa facility has become a key reentry facility. We've had construction training. We've had an industrial sewing shop where inmates are learning the skills in those areas and hopefully will transition into the community and use those skills to get a job. ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay so this is all part of the shift you would say. How long have you been in the sheriffs department? To feel like there's a shift in the focus of the way that we're doing with offenders? WAYNE BROOKS: I have been with the sheriffs for twenty-two years.This is coming about the push by AB-109 being signed and the need to reduce the recidivism rate throughout cough idea. Throughout California and reentry services and community connections are what are going to make that happen. Again we cannot just put people in a hole and expect them to change the behavior without killing of resources and some training at some changes in their thinking. They're going to be going right back to the behavior that they know. ALISON ST. JOHN: Lieutenant Brooks, have you seen any kind of change in the attitude in the inmates? WAYNE BROOKS: Began the programs are so new, there being developed and being put into place day by day. These models are just opening up and we see have seen big changes in the way that the inmates are behaving and they realize that their receiving reentry services as a group, there are changes happening as we all log. ALISON ST. JOHN: We had hoped to talk to the district attorney about this but we didn't have time. There a lot of veterans that are having trouble finding their feet the community and are often breaking the law. This is an interesting model you're describing. WAYNE BROOKS: We have a program for them where they work together. Where the actions of the time together and support each other the two and the rule received reentry services is a true so they will go through the whole process is a group hopefully binding them together so that when they do it through custody to have respect for themselves again and will use that to move on and be productive members of society. ALISON ST. JOHN: This is inklings of the beginning of the shift in culture that we hope will make law enforcement system work work more effectively. Good news both for offenders and for the whole communities, thank you for bringing us this news. That is Lieutenant Wayne Brooks with the San Diego County's detention department.
It's what many are calling a win-win situation. A contract between San Diego law enforcement and the state will send low-level offenders out to rural fire camps to help control the risk of wildfires. The program takes the pressure off jails, gives offenders a chance to be productive while they're serving their sentence and helps protect the region against one of our biggest threats -- wildfires.
In reaction to the signing of AB-109 (realignment), state prisons are reducing overcrowding by transferring low-level offenders to local jurisdictions.
We take a look at how the program is working, who qualifies, how it's saving the county jail space and money while building a force to fight wildfires.