Conservation camp found to be
The Grand Jury, a citizen organization established by California law to review and investigate the government of a county and its cities, has its roots in 12th century England and was brought to America in 1635.
The Grand Jury has been part of the California Constitution since statehood in 1850 and the Mendocino County Civil Grand Jury operates under a constitutional mandate that calls for a GJ in every county.
It is Mendocino County’s only independent watchdog of government agencies and services, and is composed of 19 citizen volunteers who investigate and monitor the performance of county, city and local governing entities, including special districts.
Empowered by the judicial system, the Civil Grand Jury makes recommendations to improve local government and is independent of administrators, politicians and legislators.
On Feb. 19, the Mendocino County 2019-2020 Civil Grand Jury conducted a site visit to Parlin Fork Conservation District #6 in Jackson State Demonstration Forest on Highway 20.
Parlin Fork is part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and is overseen by correctional officers and operated in conjunction with Cal Fire. Established in 1949, it is the oldest conservation camp in Northern California and the second oldest of the state’s 47 camps.
The primary goal of the camp is rehabilitation with a secondary goal of inmates serving the community, contributing to events including the Fort Bragg Salmon Barbeque and the Willits Thanksgiving dinner at the Senior Center.
Low risk inmates, who must be physically fit, are trained for firefighting at the CDCR in Susanville, California, for two months before being sent to the camp. Their remaining sentence cannot exceed five years and working in the camp can reduce their sentence.
Camp capacity is 100 and at the time of the GJ’s visit there were 85 inmates who made up seven crews with up to 15 per crew.
Inmates clear brush and maintain the Jackson State Demonstration Forest and respond to disasters, including fires (at $2 per hour), nearby accidents, floods and earthquakes.
On the day of the GJ’s visit, while they toured the camp and interviewed staff from CDCR and Cal Fire, crews were clearing brush, assisting in making fire trails and trimming trees in the western hills in the city of Ukiah.
Reports from the GJ’s interview state there has been a reduction of inmates with trade skills such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and mechanics and some do not possess basic life skills upon arrival at the camp.
Inmates have opportunities to improve their skills while performing valuable services to Mendocino County and the community and service experience and educational programs help to reduce recidivism; eighty per cent of inmates released from camp do not re-offend.
Programs available at the camp include Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and religious services. Inmates have the opportunity to obtain a GED diploma or an AA diploma from Lassen Junior College. College instructors visit once a month and the County Bookmobile visits weekly.
There is a hobby craft program onsite that allows them to create redwood burl, handmade clocks; picture frames; jewelry boxes; beaded jewelry; drawings and paintings. All products are donated to non-profits where they are sold.
There is an operational sawmill with up to 17 inmates working and producing tables and other wood products for the State of California and the State Park system.
The water supply that comes from the South Fork of the Noyo River is purified at their water plant providing them with opportunities to become California Certified Water and Sewer Plant Operators through training provided at the camp.
Depending on their skill level, inmates can earn from $2.90 to $5.12 per day, money that can be saved until an inmate is released.
Visitation permitted only on weekends has increased partly due to prison reform laws and the easing of parole conditions. The camp uses “Out of Bounds” signs instead of boundary fencing.
Although the CDCR staff assists inmates in acquiring California driver’s licenses, the new Federal law requiring a REAL ID license or a passport to board an airplane—documents that are difficult to obtain while incarcerated—makes it difficult for them to fly home.
The GJ states that the camp appears to be well-managed with a dedicated staff—the CDCR and CAL FIRE are to be commended for maintenance of the facility and for providing a positive model for inmates, creating an environment that allows them to develop a sense of pride and accomplishment while performing their work duties.
Ukiah Daily Journal
September 22, 2020
By Karen Rifkin