A job with many hats
By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer
Among California’s 44 conservation camps are the Camp Commanders who are responsible for the day-to-day needs and supervision of inmates in sometimes remote locations without perimeter fences.
The Camp Commanders are responsible for the supervision of all custody staff, inmates, purchasing/budget, and ensuring the needs of the inmates on the fire lines are being met as the agency representative for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
Lt. Michael D’Arcy, a Camp Commander for 14 years and a total of 28 years with CDCR runs Prado Camp in Chino.
“You’re responsible for the entire operation of the camp,” Lt. D’Arcy said. The Camp Commander’s responsibilities include food service, inmate canteen, medical care for inmates, emergency response, and coordination with local government and law enforcement agencies, he said.
When the camp is called to support the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire), the Camp Commander decides what crew or crews respond; typically the crew with the least amount of hours is selected to ensure crews receive an equal amount of work.
On the fire site, the Camp Commanders make sure inmates receive proper food and water, rest breaks, medical attention, and are provided adequate sanitation such as portable toilets.
When the crews are not assisting on the fire lines, the Camp Commander reviews requests for public works projects, among other things. When a camp receives work project requests, sometimes from the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Parks and Recreation, U.S. Forest Service, airports, and local governments, the Camp Commander determines the suitability of the project for the inmates.
Lt. Randy Sherer, a Camp Commander of Deadwood Conservation Camp in remote Siskiyou County, has been with the Conservation Camps program for 22 years. His camp completes, on average, 75 community works projects every quarter.
He knows well the responsibilities and duties required to run a 24/7 operation, supervising inmates without perimeter fences and locked cells.
“Whatever community a camp is located in the goal is to be a positive member of the community and public safety is our first priority.” Sherer said. “We don’t have fences and the doors aren’t locked.”
He said inmates are continually evaluated to protect the public.
Making sure the camp is running smoothly can be even more difficult when it’s more than four hours from the nearest institution. Planning ahead for supplies, food, other essentials and efficient use of resources is a must for an effective camp commander.
Despite the immense responsibility, Lts. D’Arcy and Sherer believe in the positive effect the conservation camps program has on rehabilitating inmates.
“I’ve seen hundreds of homes burn in a single afternoon, but I’ve also seen inmates, supervised by Cal Fire, save hundreds of homes in an afternoon,” Lt. Sherer said. “The camps program gives inmates meaningful work to do and as far as rehabilitation, the program is one of the most effective within CDCR.”