Correctional Camp Program has a new tool to help firefighters

Larch Corrections crew feeds firefighters from new kitchen on Spokane Complex Fire
Larch Corrections crew feeds firefighters from new kitchen on Spokane Complex Fire

The Correctional Camp Program has a new kitchen that offenders at Larch Correctional Camp used to help feed firefighters – hundreds of them. The kitchen is a custom-built trailer that allows inmate crews to feed up to 1,200 firefighters three meals a day. At the Spokane Complex, the new kitchen was efficiently feeding 560 firefighters the required 4,500 calories per day.

The new kitchen helps offenders feed firefighters so efficiently that they’re able to pay more attention to ensuring that food is not only nutritious, but appealing and delicious too.

Working jointly with the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA), DNR operates correction camp crews out of one juvenile and four adult correctional camp facilities. When the Spokane Complex fires started, the Larch Correctional Camp crew was called into action to bring the new kitchen to basecamp.

Typically, camps are able to dispatch equipment and crews within two hours, and set up and prepare the first meal of the next day.

There are three DNR kitchens statewide currently serving Spokane Complex Fire, Deep North Fire in Northport and the Suncrest Fire in Leavenworth.

A long history

Inmate honor camps have been providing cost-efficient support for state lands since 1939, and DNR began providing mobile fire kitchens in the 1950s.

Inmate crews also fight fires, and perform other work

Working in kitchens is not all these inmate crews do. They know how hungry these firefighters get because they too fight wildfire. Experienced DNR forest crew supervisors oversee correctional crews when they work out on wildfires and perform other forest work outside of camp (the DOC supervises inmates when in camp). Inmates receive wildland firefighter training akin to that of a “red card” certification prior to fire season. In addition to cooking meals at fire camp, they know how to dig hand lines, mop-up (put out hot spots), and are often a part of initial attack on new fires.

Year-round these crews also perform a variety of forestry-related projects such as trail construction and maintenance, noxious weed removal, tree planting, forest fuel reduction, illegal dump site cleanup and much more.

How it works for Washington

DNR camp managers and crew supervisors manage kitchen operations, and inmates provide the labor. The Correctional Camp Program, and its approximately 300 inmate participants, provide a valuable service and save taxpayer dollars each year. Their efforts provide cost-efficient support for the benefit of state and other public lands.

Adult inmates volunteer for the program, DNR and DOC staff evaluate each inmate before acceptance into the Camp Program. Inmates are eager to participate because they benefit too. As they work, the inmates are able to earn a small gratuity to help pay debts and support them upon release. The program also teaches positive work habits, develops a great variety of job skills, and helps them to experience the sense of pride that comes from working hard and accomplishing something of value. Serving the firefighters gives these offenders a sense of pride, self-worth, and it makes them feel like they’re part of a larger community.

In a recent KHQ story that showed the Larch crew and the new kitchen in action, one offender said, “It feels good to feel like you’re needed.”

Another important public benefit, is that participants in the DNR program are less likely to re-offend after completing their sentence.

More new kitchens planned for 2018, 2020

At a price of $400,000, the new kitchen used at the Spokane Complex wasn’t cheap. Yet, the gained efficiencies are worth it. Though budgets are tight, DNR is planning now to be able to bring on two more new kitchens, based from the Cedar Creek and Olympic camps, over the next four years.

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