Giving Compass’ Take:
• California’s inmate firefighters that have received training can now have their criminal records expunged and will be able to work toward an EMT certification.
• How does this new law help advocate for inmate rights and stimulate the state’s economy?
• Read more about the criminal justice system and reform.
Inmate firefighters have battled some of California’s most destructive wildfires, including the Thomas Fire, the Mendocino Complex Fire, the Ferguson Fire, and the Camp Fire. But for years, most former inmates who had received firefighting training were ineligible to become professional firefighters; their criminal records prevented them from getting the state license necessary for employment.
That changed on Friday, when Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2147 into law. The bill, which was sponsored by Democratic Assembly member Eloise Reyes, makes it easier for former inmates who have received training as firefighters to have their criminal records expunged. With a clean record, former inmates can obtain the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification that is needed to work in a municipal firefighting department.
California has relied on inmates to fight wildfires for roughly 80 years. They are trained through the Conservation Camp Program, which is jointly operated by the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cal Fire, and the L.A. County Fire Department. The program has long faced criticism from social justice advocates — inmate firefighters make just pennies per hour, with an extra $1 per hour when they are actively fighting a fire.
The state of California has also been criticized for relying too heavily on its inmate firefighting force. This year, there are more than 1,000 incarcerated firefighters fighting back the state’s devastating and historic blazes, but that’s only half as many as usual. Due to the pandemic, many inmate firefighters have been infected with COVID-19 and cannot work. Hundreds more have been released early from prison to curb the virus’ spread. As a result, Newsom has had to call in reinforcements from as far away as Australia.
Read the full article about California firefighters by Joseph Winters at Grist.
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