Convicts to be used to clean Portugal’s forests

After the attempt to attract refugees into forestry clearance seems to have bombed, the government is opting for the use of prisoners.

According to Noticias de Coimbra, the national prison board (DGRSP) is working on a “major deal” involving collaboration with the ministries of agriculture and internal administration to involve convicts in forest clearing.

The news comes after the balance of this years fires confirms 2017 to be the “worst year in the last decade”.

The 213,000 hectares affected by wildfires translate into double the average forestry loss for the last 10 years, though the country has seen even worse tallies since the turn of the century.

As to the form that prisoners will be drafted in to work on forests, this is still being worked out.

Said magistrate Celso Manata, in charge of DGRSP: “We cannot involve a large number because it is a very big risk”.

Defenders of the use of prison-labour “would not understand if we put thousands of people into an open regime and then they started to commit crimes. If that happened, we would be criticised, and quite rightly so. We cannot run this risk. We would prefer to do less, but do it well”.

The possibility of ‘brigades of convicts’ working in the forests was also discounted, mainly on the basis that the prison service doesn’t have enough guards.

Manata added that his prison board has concluded the draft of a programme aimed at arsonists. The plan was “imported from Canada and adapted to the Portuguese reality”.

It is not clear from Noticias de Coimbra’s report whether convicted arsonists would be used to clear the forests, but Manata stressed that forestry clearance/ the planting of trees and creation of fire-belts was “particularly interesting” as it was work undertaken for the good of the community and carried out in “a pleasant environment”.

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