Readers React

Morally bankrupt, mathematically wrong on inmate firefighters

To the editor: Set aside the ethical lapses made by those bemoaning the loss of nearly unpaid labor that is a consequence of the prison reform brought about by Proposition 47 and consider their mathematical lapses instead. ("Prop. 47 leaves future of California inmate fire crews uncertain," Nov. 12)

State officials claim a savings of $80 million annually, realized by the conscription of 4,000 prisoners who apparently deserve to be paid only a tiny fraction of the roughly $20,000 average seasonal firefighting salary that is earned by their free colleagues.

This calculation does not, however, take into account the $47,000 paid annually by the state to incarcerate each of these same inmate firefighters, who are considered so low risk that they may be trusted to wield deadly weapons in the chaos of a blazing forest.

While it is disappointing that the moral calculus of these officials favors the ill-gotten gains of nearly free labor, the inability to recognize that inmate fire crews are more costly than paid labor exposes a stunning lack of arithmetic skills.

Jonathan May, Culver City


To the editor: As evidenced by the passage of Proposition 47, the people are still way ahead of the politicians on drug policy.

The punitive drug war is not the promoter of family values that some would have us believe. Children of inmates are at risk of educational failure, joblessness, addiction and delinquency.

Incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders alongside hardened criminals is the equivalent of providing them with a taxpayer-funded education in criminal behavior. Prisons transmit violent habits to nonviolent drug offenders who are eventually released with dismal job prospects because of criminal records.

Turning drug users into unemployable ex-cons is a senseless waste of tax dollars. It's time to declare peace in the failed drug war and begin treating all substance abuse, legal or otherwise, as the public health problem it is.

Robert Sharpe, Washington

The writer is a policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug Policy.

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