Wednesday, August 20, 1997


After reviewing the Bureau of State Audit’s (BSA) second audit of the Prison Industry Authority (PIA) in as many years, Corrections Interim Director Tom Maddock said he was encouraged.

"PIA has made significant progress," said Maddock, who also chairs the Prison Industry Board, the eleven-member advisory body that oversees PIA operations. "It is gratifying that BSA acknowledged the many improvements PIA has made."

Maddock specifically noted PIA’s Prompt Delivery Program and surveys that showed customer satisfaction has increased by 50 percent. PIA also has closed or consolidated five industries to streamline operations and reduce costs. "They’ve done all this while keeping a lid on prices for the fourth straight year," said Maddock.

Inmate jobs with PIA are some of the most highly skilled and highly paid in the prison system. The roughly 6,600 inmates currently employed produce goods and services used by the state’s 33 prisons. PIA also sells inmate-manufactured goods to other state and local governments.

While PIA has not fully implemented all BSA’s recommendations, Maddock indicated he was satisfied with their progress to date. "Many BSA recommendations address complex areas which require long-term efforts," he said.

To date, PIA has completed the planning phase of a major cost accounting system. They have added more tracking capabilities to their information systems and initiated a centralized procurement project for inmate clothing. When 1996-97 figures are finalized, PIA also expects to show a reduction in their physical inventory--a longtime goal for PIA and an issue raised by BSA.

"BSA continues to compare PIA with private industry," said Maddock. "While such comparisons are useful in trying to achieve greater governmental efficiencies, they also must factor in the unskilled, uneducated and undisciplined labor force available to PIA.

"I am confident that PIA is moving in the right direction to be able to meet the challenges of the future," said Maddock.

Thursday, August 7, 1997


More than 1,500 orange-suited California prison inmates are working side-by-side with other fire crews battling the numerous fires raging throughout the state.

Inmates from all of the state’s 38 conservation camps are cutting fire lines, clearing debris from the fire’s path, setting back fires and extinguishing smaller fires they encounter.

The 1,583 inmates and 133 staff from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) are assigned to fires in ten counties, from Lassen County in the north to San Bernardino in the south. They will remain on the fires until they are fully contained and will then be deployed to another fire if needed.

The inmates are normally assigned to the conservation camps, or minimum security prisons, located in rural areas throughout the state. The camps house almost 4,000 inmates and are operated jointly by CDC and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF).

CDC oversees camp security and operations; its staff provide the necessary security while inmates are on the fire line. CDF provides firefighting training and supervises inmate firefighting efforts.

Hundreds of inmate crews joined in the state’s flood fighting during this year’s heavy flooding. Inmate crews built the widely-publicized berm that protected the Northern California town of Meridien from inundation by the raging flood waters.

Inmates serve their sentences at conservation camps after passing a highly selective screening process and a rigorous firefighting training regime. A typical firefighting inmate was convicted of a nonviolent offense, has an average sentence of two years and will spend about eight months in camp before parole.

When not fighting fires, inmates are dispatched to other emergencies and non-emergency work including earthquakes, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal.

In the average fire season, inmates work up to two million hours. They are paid $1.00 an hour on the fire lines.

It is estimated that state and local governments save more than $70 million that otherwise would be paid to accomplish the work inmates perform.