Inmates earn stripes

Every year when wildfire season arrives, some of Colorado’s guarded turn into guardians. State inmates don fireproof clothing instead of prison stripes and take to the backcountry to join other firefighters in protecting residents.

The Colorado Department of Corrections’ SWIFT (State Wild and Inmate Fire Team) program operates crews out of prisons in Rifle, Buena Vista and Cañon City. The program enables participants to learn teamwork, earn a little extra cash and receive an extra day’s credit for time served for each day on a fire or working on fuel-reduction or related projects.

With its slogan, “We Build Opportunity,” it offers training for, and an introduction to, a possible post-prison career that some former prisoners have successfully pursued. It also provides the kind of valuable boost in self-esteem and confidence that can help participants envision following a positive, crime-free path after prison, whatever job choice that might entail. Perhaps as important, it helps men who have harmed society in some way to find a way to contribute to society instead.

As the Rifle prison repeatedly gets consideration for possible closure for cost-saving reasons, the facility’s supporters appropriately note the existence of a valuable firefighting force based in this geographically strategic part of the state from a fire-danger perspective. In June the Rifle crews fought two threatening fires just a few miles from the prison.

As the recent deaths of 19 men fighting an Arizona fire remind us, the work that wildland firefighters do isn’t without risk. On the fire line, even inmates are firefighters first and foremost, and they have our gratitude for their efforts.





We all know what the first step in going on a diet entails. Step on a scale, face up to the bad news and record those pounds as a starting point for measuring future improvements.

A coalition of Mesa County entities has done something akin to that on a communitywide scale, and based not just on obesity but a wide range of criteria, in attempting to sum up the general health of county residents.

The news isn’t great. In a long list of categories — including heart disease, smoking, cancer, diabetes, suicides and maternity measures — Mesa County residents on average are less healthy than Coloradans as a whole.

There are some positive exceptions, such as injury hospitalization rates. But overall we’ve got our work cut out for us.

The first step already has been taken for us, thanks to the problem areas identified in the study undertaken by Mesa County Health Department with involvement from Grand Junction, Colorado Mesa University and major local health providers and insurers. The next step requires acting on them, and we like the county Health Department’s focus on trying to identify and address the root behavioral causes of some of these afflictions, rather than just how to best treat the symptoms.

Mesa County offers plenty of opportunities for healthy exercise, eating and living, as well as excellent health care. Why more of us aren’t healthy is an important question to ask.


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