SAN FRANCISCO – Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a bill that allows prisoners fighting fires while in custody to have their documents deleted after serving time so they have an easier path to becoming regular firefighters upon release.
The bill addresses the emergence of an unexpected social justice issue this summer, as massive wildfires during a pandemic highlighted California’s long-standing reliance on inmates to put out fires.
CA AB2147 (19R), by Congresswoman Eloise Reyes (D-Grand Terrace), allows prisoners who have served in a state fire camp or county firefighting team to apply to the court to file their sentences in so they can qualify as an EMT, a necessary step in becoming a firefighter.
The law “will give those prisoners hope of actually getting a job in the profession they were trained,” Newsom said after signing the bill on Friday in Oroville, where the North Complex Fire burned 250,000 acres and 10 people died. . The bill excludes those who have been convicted of certain crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, arson or any crime punishable by death or life in prison.
The state released thousands of inmates earlier this spring to clean up cramped prisons and reduce the risks of exposure to Covid-19, particularly low-risk criminals who might normally serve in fire camps. Hundreds of rare lightning strikes across the state in August then put a strain on California’s firefighters, and the state acknowledged that its inmate teams were thinner this year due to the releases.
Last year, some 3,100 inmates helped fight the fires. While California has long relied on inmates to fight fires, social justice efforts were in full swing this summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, and supporters have grasped the use of the prisoners from California as a serious problem.
The bill is intended to provide a faster path for detained firefighter crew members to become professional firefighters, which, according to supporters, was a matter of fairness for those serving their time. and demonstrate their skills.
“Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure ex-offenders have a career is a path to reoffending,” Reyes said in a statement. “We need to be serious about providing pathways for those who show determination to change their lives.”
But members of law enforcement and prosecutors have opposed the bill, arguing that those who go to jail have already been considered a higher risk and would pose a danger to the public.