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Bill To Expand Arizona Inmate Wildfire Fuels Crews Signed Into Law

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Gov. Doug Ducey last week signed a bill into law that’ll employ hundreds more state inmates for wildfire mitigation work. Officials hope it’ll help reduce fire danger throughout the state. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative will enlist low-risk state inmates to clear debris and other potential wildfire fuels mainly on state land over the next two years. A dozen prisoner crews already work in direct wildfire suppression in the state.

Gov. Doug Ducey says the more than $23.5 million project will benefit prisoners after they’re released.

"More than 700 state inmates will have an opportunity to manage fire-prone vegetation, gain experience with tools and work together as a team. I’m confident that this’ll help reduce recidivism," Ducey says.

According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the program will allow the state to significantly increase fuels mitigation.

The agency says the new inmate workers will earn $1 an hour while prisoner firefighters are currently paid a $1.50. Many entry-level inmate jobs in the state start at 10 cents an hour.

Several western states employ prisoners to work in wildfire suppression and prevention including New Mexico, Nevada and California.

2020 was Arizona’s second-worst wildfire year on record with nearly 980,000 acres burned.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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