Inmates have performed work at Crystal Cove for more than 25 years, but the men are playing a more noticeable role as they help restore the coastal park's historic district.
The park is finishing up a $14-million restoration project of the 10 overnight cottages and three dormitory-style cottages, meticulously decorated to reflect the villa's Depression-era roots.
Kramer said inmate crews were not working on the cottages, but on access to the areas. The inmates do a lot of brush clearing, landscape work and native plant restoration, he said.
"We typically use them in areas where there is minimal public interface," he said, adding that inmates are not used during the summer months. Whenever inmates are working in the area, signs are posted to warn hikers and visitors.
"We never had a problem with them in all the years they've been here," Kramer said. All inmates wear identifying uniforms and are guarded by peace officers with the State Park's Department.
California has used prison labor to fight wild land fires since 1942. During World War II, the California Department of Forestry was desperate for firefighters and employed the state's prison population to battle the blazes.
Participating prisoners must be nonviolent offenders, and most are in for drug and property crimes. Sex offenders, murderers, child abusers, kidnappers and violent criminals are not allowed.
"And obviously arsonists, we don't like to have arsonists at our camps," said Capt. John Peck, who oversees the California Department of Correction's camp system.
Peck said 42 camps operate throughout the state, with none based in Orange County. Most are trained in firefighting techniques and given physical fitness preparations.