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Young Offenders Forest Conservation Program (B.R.I.D.G.E.)


Based in Morganton, along with a satellite office in Woodfin, the B.R.I.D.G.E. (BUILDING, REHABILITATING, INSTRUCTING, DEVELOPING, GROWING, EMPLOYING) program is a cooperative effort between the N.C. Forest Service and the N.C. Department of Adult Correction. Minimum custody inmates are chosen to work in the program and housed at western North Carolina prison facilities. The primary goal of the program is to provide well-trained and equipped forest firefighting crews ready at a moment's notice. A secondary but important goal is to develop a strong work ethic and work skills so inmates will be able to secure a job when they are released.

The program was conceived in 1985 after a devastating spring fire season in Western North Carolina. A feasibility study was conducted in 1986, and the program was implemented in 1987 in Burke County. B.R.I.D.G.E. began with a group of 18 inmates. Today, up to 73 inmates may be enrolled at any one time.


Inmates enrolled in B.R.I.D.G.E. must meet certain criteria to be selected for the program. Inmates must be between the ages of 18-32, must not be convicted of sexual assault crimes or any serious assaults that are predatory in nature and result in injury. Inmates must be minimum custody and in good physical condition.

Vocational Training

In addition to wildland firefighting, B.R.I.D.G.E. offers a variety of vocational opportunities including trail construction and maintenance, painting, landscaping, forest management, minor masonry, plumbing and electrical work. Inmates can receive training certificates in wildland firefighting, first aid, chainsaw operation and UTV operation. They can earn a forklift operator’s license and enroll in light construction courses offered through Western Piedmont Community College. B.R.I.D.G.E. can also be used as a job reference when applying for employment following release from the prison system.


Twenty exceptional inmates in the program can participate as members of the N.C. Forest Service Helicopter Strike Team (Helitack). These inmates are trained in wildland firefighting helicopter operations and are assigned to two helicopters located in Western North Carolina. When the helicopters are dispatched to a wildfire, the inmates fly to the scene and provide initial attack suppression efforts on the blaze. Inmates must be highly motivated and have an excellent work ethic to be considered for the Helitack team.


B.R.I.D.G.E. is an excellent program for the young inmate and the citizens of North Carolina. It helps an inmate build a work ethic and provides useful hands-on training in numerous job skills to help him become a productive member of society. Nationally, the rate of return to prison for this age group is about 35%. Early statistics show only 12% of B.R.I.D.G.E. "graduates" are likely to come back into the prison system. To date, more than 5,000 inmates have gone through the program, working more than 2.8 million man-hours. This has saved North Carolina more than 36 million dollars in labor costs.

The Young Offenders Forest Conservation Program (B.R.I.D.G.E.) has proven itself to be a success in supplying trained firefighters, rehabilitating inmates and saving North Carolina taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. It is not only a success for the state but also any inmate who participates in this unique and rewarding program.

For more information, please contact the B.R.I.D.G.E. office at 828-544-6600.

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