Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

He faces up to a 12-year sentence in fire camp incident

A Pelican Bay State Prison inmate has accepted a plea deal on the eve of his trial for charges related to trying to smuggle drugs into a prison fire camp.

Justin W. Hardin, 35, of Santa Clara County, pleaded guilty to charges of possessing heroin with the intent to sell and importing methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana into a prison facility, District Attorney Jon Alexander said.

Hardin accepted an open plea, meaning the judge has the discretion to decide the amount of time he will serve, up to a maximum of 12 years, Alexander said.

"Next to gang tensions, not many things create a greater potential for violence to CDCR staff and other inmates than the importation of drugs," said Alexander.

In April, Hardin escaped from Alder Conservation Camp, an unfenced inmate firefighter encampment in Klamath, disappearing for three days while authorities searched for him. When he was found near the boundaries of the camp he possessed about five grams of heroin and meth, as well as marijuana, Alexander said.

Hardin also had a cell phone, which was suspected to have been used to coordinate a dropoff point for the drugs, Alexander said.

"We got an offer that we think will do justice," the DA said of the plea deal.

Hardin has served several terms in prison with his latest convictionoccurring in September of 2010 for corporal injury to his spouse. He was serving a four-year term.

He was sentenced to two years in September of 2009 for receiving stolen property. He was paroled in August 2010 for that case.

In 2005, he was sentenced to two years and eight months for grand theft.

In 1998, he was sentenced to two years and eight months for possession of a controlled substance.

Alder Camp holds 100andndash;125 low-level inmates who are eligible to go to a fire camp. It opened in 1961 and is operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Inmates are trained as firefighting crews and also do conservation and community service projects in the local area.

Inmates earn three days of credit against their term for every actual day served once they join a fire team.

CDCR inmates are eligible to join the fire camps if they have not been convicted of a violent felony, are physically fit and are not a threat to the community.

There are about 3,000 inmates within 18 camps across the state.

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