The Latest: Chief backs using violent inmates to fight fires

AP News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2015 9:25 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The latest on California's use of prisoners with violent backgrounds to fight wildfires (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

A state senator says California should start from scratch in deciding which inmates it considers to become firefighters.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican from Gerber, says he told Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard on Thursday he's not persuaded that prisoners with violent backgrounds can safely be used.

Beard is calling critics of the program to defend the state's use of inmates with violent pasts to fight wildfires. He tells The Associated Press that this is no time to scale back the decades-old program because California faces deadly fires aggravated by four years of drought.

The corrections chief says there have been few problems with the program despite the disclosure this week that about 1,400 of the state's 3,700 inmate firefighters have previous convictions for violent offenses.

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11 a.m.

California's corrections chief is defending the state's use of inmates with violent pasts to fight wildfires, while promising to mend relations with critics who fear the prisoners create a public safety danger.

Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard tells The Associated Press that this is no time to scale back the decades-old program because California faces deadly fires aggravated by four years of drought.

He says there have been few problems despite the disclosure this week that about 1,400 of the state's 3,700 inmate firefighters have previous convictions for violent offenses.

A state senator and head of the state firefighters' union are calling for investigations.

Beard said nothing has changed despite the disclosure.