What is Fire Camp?
Fire Camp is a program run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The CDCR takes non-violent, minimal custody inmates and transfers them to training camps throughout the state. There, these individuals are trained as firefighters. In an average year, the Conservation Camp program provides approximately three million person-hours responding to fires and other emergencies and seven million person-hours in community service projects. Those projects include clearing fire breaks, restoring historical structures, maintaining parks, sandbagging and flood protection, reforestation, and clearing fallen trees and debris.
Why would someone be interested in Fire Camp?
In short, Fire Camp is a fun, interesting, and exciting way to pass the time while in jail or prison. Individuals learn a new skill and enjoy more freedom than in normal jails or prisons. Additionally, inmates who are in Fire Camp get better custody credits than individuals in jail or who are serving a normal prison sentence. For example, if someone is serving a local custody sentence, they get 2 days of credit for every 2 days they serve. (PC 4019.) In fire camp, they get two days of credit for every 1 day served. (PC 2933.3.)
I get a lot of inquiries about Fire Camp from individuals who are serving a sentence in county jail and are struggling with the boredom they experience serving a local prison sentence. The reason for this is that county jails are designed to house a person for only about a year, maximum. County jails used to be for people whose case is still being litigated in court and they must be kept close to the courthouse and for people who are serving very short sentences.
With new changes to California law, and in efforts to reduce prison overcrowding, we have created a nightmare situation for non-violent offenders serving long custodial sentences in jail. Because their crimes were neither serious nor violent, and because they have no history of serious or violent offenses, they must serve their long sentence in local custody, in facilities that are neither equipped nor designed for long-term housing. In short, they are stuck in a custodial purgatory. These individuals are often begging for an alternative sentence and hope Fire Camp is the solution.
How do you get Into Fire Camp IF YOU ARE IN COUNTY JAIL?
Acceptance into Fire Camp from the County Jail requires at least a 3-step process:
Inmate Processing Division (IPD) will screen you under two eligibility factors:
- You were sentenced pursuant to 1170(h) have enough time left to serve on your sentence; and
- You do not have a split sentence with mandatory supervision.
If you are found eligible in the first step, then the Jail Population Management Unit will screen your history using the following criteria:
- Do you have violent felonies on your record?
- Do you have serious felonies on your record?
- Have you ever escaped or walked away in the past 10 years?
- Do you have any active felony hold, warrant, or detainer for a felony offense?
- Do you have an active ICE hold?
- Do you have any prior prison gang membership?
- Do you have any disciplinary history (including in-custody misconduct in the last 12-months) resulting in a finding of guilt that could constitute a felony?
- Have you been held in a security housing unit (SHU) or psychiatric service unit (PSU) in the last 12 months?
- Was your case of great public interest?
- Have you ever served a sentence for arson or have a conviction, arrest, or detention relating to possession of an explosive device?
If the answers to all of the above are no, then you will also have to pass the Medical Screening. They will consider the following:
- Do you have the functional capacity to complete fire camp?
- You have no work restrictions;
- You have bilateral vision with 20/40 each eye;
- You have good bilateral grip strength;
- You have good mobility and endurance;
- You are able to dig ditches, chop wood, and haul water; and
- You are able to work at high altitudes;
- You do not have any chronic medical conditions or do have conditions that are in good control and are common conditions;
- You do not require medications to be administered by a nurse. You only require access to a limited nurse sick call and to emergency care;
- You require only two or fewer consultations to General Surgery, Orthopedics, GYN, Radiology, Ophthalmology, or Internal Medicine.
MENTAL HEALTH FITNESS
- You are not prescribed psychotropic medication
- You have been screened by a mental health clinician who determined you do not need any current mental health treatment
- You are not awaiting dental prosthesis, don’t have any toothache/pain, has not had any soft-tissue treatment in the past 60 days
If you meet and pass all of these criteria, the Fire Camp Screening Packet will then be transferred to CDCR for their approval. The CDCR makes its own, independent evaluation. If selected, the inmate processing division will create a Fire Camp transfer list with qualified inmates and will be transferred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
If accepted into Fire Camp, you would be trained in fire-fighting techniques by CalFire, which includes one week of classroom instruction and another week of field exercises.
Adult male inmates receive fire-fighting training at the California Correctional Center, Susanville; Sierra Conservation Center, Jamestown; the California Men’s Colony, San Luis Obispo; and the California Rehabilitation Center, Norco.
Adult female inmates are trained at the California Institution for Women, Corona.
Juvenile offenders are trained at the Pine Grove Conservation Camp in Amador County.
How/When does one get OUT of Fire Camp
- At the very latest you would be returned to county jail-no matter what- 30 days before the release date;
- You may be returned to county jail sooner for various reasons, which include (but are not limited to):
- Sickness or medical care beyond what is available at the camp*;
- You are injured at camp*;
- You are unable to complete the training;
- You violate the camp’s rules.
* If you are returned to San Diego County due to sickness, medical issue, or injury which has healed, you may be eligible to go back to Fire Camp once you recover.
modifying a split sentence to a straight sentence to be eligible for fire camp
Some people ask me if they should change their split sentence to a straight sentence to make them eligible for Fire Camp. This is a very personal decision and maybe a very risky one. Things to consider when deciding whether or not you would want to do this are the consequences of this decision. Some consequences include:
- This decision is permanent. Once you give up your split sentence, you cannot get it back. The CDCR will not determine if they will accept you until you are eligible, and the court will not reinstate your split sentence if the CDCR denies your application to Fire Camp.
- If you change your sentence and are not accepted into Fire Camp, you will be serving all your remaining time on your sentence in county jail- the very consequence you were trying to avoid in the first place.
- Losing your split sentence may mean you are unable to expunge your conviction after your release. Penal Code section 1203.41 allows you to expunge your sentence if you were sentenced pursuant to Penal Code section 1170(h)(5), a split sentence with mandatory supervision. By modifying your sentence to a straight sentence, you may not be able to have the charges dismissed later on.
All in all, Fire Camp is a very interesting program that offers individuals serving time in custody the opportunity to learn a heroic skill and to pass the time contributing to their state.