SAN FRANCISCO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday that would allow prisoners fighting fires in custody to clear their records after serving time so that they can more easily become regular firefighters upon release.
The bill addresses the emergence of an unexpected social justice issue this summer when massive pandemic forest fires exposed California’s longstanding trust in inmates to suppress fires.
CA AB2147 (19R) of Congregation Leader Eloise Reyes (D-Grand Terrace) has prisoners who served in a state fire camp or on a county fire team request the court to dismiss their convictions in order to qualify as rescue workers Firefighter.
The law “will give these prisoners hope of actually getting a job in the profession they trained,” Newsom said at the signing of the bill on Friday in Oroville, where the north complex fire burned 250,000 acres and 10 people died . The bill excludes those convicted of specific crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, arson, or offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The state released thousands of inmates earlier this spring to clear cramped prisons and reduce the risk of Covid-19 exposure – especially lower-risk offenders who normally serve in fire camps. Hundreds of infrequent lightning strikes in August then placed heavy demands on the California Fire Department, and the state acknowledged that its occupants’ crews were thinner that year due to the releases.
Around 3,100 inmates helped fight the fire last year. While California has long relied on inmates to fight fires, social justice efforts were in full swing this summer following the Minnesota police murder of George Floyd, and advocates took up the use of prisoners in California as a serious problem .
The bill aims to provide a faster way for fire fighters to become professional firefighters. This, according to proponents, is a matter of fairness to those who spend their time and demonstrate their skills.
“Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure ex-inmates have careers is a road to relapse,” Reyes said in a statement.
However, law enforcement officers and prosecutors opposed the bill on the grounds that those who spend time in prisons were already classified as at higher risk and would pose a threat to the public.