Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday aimed at eliminating barriers that prevent former inmate fire crews from pursuing careers as firefighters once they have served their prison time.
Nonviolent offenders who have fought fires as members of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation fire camps will now be able to have their records expunged, allowing them to seek employment and further firefighting training, according to the governor’s office.
“This legislation rights a historic wrong and recognizes the sacrifice of thousands of incarcerated people who have helped battle wildfires in our state, and I would like to thank the Legislature for passing this bill,” Newsom said.
Previously, released inmates were often denied jobs at fire departments because of their felony records. Now, formerly incarcerated individuals will be able to file a petition in county court to expunge their records and waive parole time.
The expunged records will give former inmate firefighters the ability to apply for more than 200 jobs that require a state license, according to Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes of San Bernardino, who authored the bill.
“Signing AB 2147 into law is about giving second chances,” Reyes said. “Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism. We must get serious about providing pathways for those that show the determination to turn their lives around.”
At a time when California is plagued with wildfires, the state has been facing a shortage of inmate firefighters in recent weeks because of early releases due to the pandemic.
A total of 5,627 incarcerated individuals have been released early since July 1, resulting in about 600 fewer inmate firefighters available for the fire season in comparison to last year, officials told CNN.
As of late August, there were 102 inmate crews, or 1,306 inmates, deployed to 19 fires, according to Cal Fire Resource Management Communications Officer Christine McMorrow.
The average compensation for an inmate firefighter is $3.63 per day, he told CNN. Firefighters earn an additional $1 per day when deployed to an active fire.
The new law will create an incentive for former inmate firefighters to pursue jobs professionally after their release, by asking a judge to withdraw their plea of guilty, the Associated Press reported. The judge could then opt to dismiss the accusations.
The measure excludes those convicted of certain violent felonies and sex offenses, and the ex-offender would still have to disclose the conviction if he or she applies to become a teacher, according to AP.