SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Friday that allowed inmate firefighters in California to have their records cleared, making a path for them to become professional firefighters once they are released from prison.
The bill, AB 2147, allows nonviolent offenders who have fought fires as members of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s fire camps to have their records expunged, allowing individuals leaving the camps to seek employment and further training.
Overall, there are approximately 3,100 inmates currently working at fire camps across the state. Out of those, about 2,200 are fire-line qualified inmates according to the CDCR.
Newsom, through a Twitter post, said the state’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform.
“Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter,” he said.
All inmates receive the same entry-level training that Cal Fire’s seasonal firefighter receives in addition to ongoing training received from the state throughout the time they are in the program.
While gaining experience and qualifications on the fire lines, many formerly incarcerated firefighters struggle to obtain licenses and employment due to their criminal records, the Governor’s Office said.
Under the new law, formerly incarcerated individuals who fought fires can file a petition in county court to expunge their records and waive parole time, which opens career pathways in emergency response and other fields.
California has scrambled over recent years to field enough prison fire crews as their numbers dwindled while the state released lower-level inmates. Thousands more were released early as the state responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.