California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law legislation which would expunge criminal convictions for inmate firefighters so they can qualify for civilian firefighting jobs after their release from prison.
"Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter," Newsom, as he signed the law on Friday which allows prisoners to petition courts to expunge their convictions after receiving "valuable training and place themselves in danger assisting firefighters to defend the life and property of Californians."
CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 11, 2020
Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter.
Today, I signed #AB2147 that will fix that. pic.twitter.com/15GJ7Gijt7
The law would also allow inmate firefighters to qualify for paramedic certification, a requirement by civilian fire departments which prevents those with convictions from achieving.
"Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism," said Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, who added "We must get serious about providing pathways for those that show the determination to turn their lives around."
Approximately 2,200 California inmates serve on the front lines of the state's increasingly frequent and destructive blazes, according to the Sacramento Bee. Overall, the program has 3,100 inmates stationed at minimum security facilities across 27 counties.
To put it in context, Cal Fire has approximately 6,500 year-round employees, which swells to around 9,000 during fire season. Inmates earn between $2 and $5 per day, plus $1 per hour while fighting a fire.