Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday toured the Lake Oroville area of Northern California, which has been badly hit by wildfires in recent days. (September 1
The governor of California passed a law on Friday that would allow prisoners fighting the state’s massive forest fires to avoid another fight after their release: finding work.
Under California Law AB2147, Governor Gavin Newsom allows certain detainees who are at the forefront of forest fire containment to clear their records after serving their sentences. The aim is to facilitate a career as a firefighter for them after their release.
Criminal records are often a barrier to employment. Newsom said he wants to give prisoners a chance to become firefighters and removing their criminal history will make it possible.
“The California fire department program for inmates is decades old and has long had to be reformed,” Newsom said on Twitter on Friday. “Inmates who have been on the front lines fighting historic fires should not be denied the right to later become professional firefighters.”
Newsom signed the bill against a backdrop of gray ash and charred trees near Lake Oroville, one of the most devastating of the many fires that charred the state in recent weeks. At least 20 people have died in forest fires in California, according to Cal Fire.
The bill excludes those convicted of specific crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, arson, or offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment.
California has struggled to deploy enough firefighters for inmates in recent years due to changes in state law that have reduced the number of junior offenders in state prisons. Court rulings also ended some of the incentives for inmates to risk their lives fighting fires if they could earn similar early release loans with less dangerous duties.
The shortage grew this year as thousands more inmates were released early to slow the spread of the coronavirus through prisons, reducing the number of inmates firefighters by about 30% year over year.
The new law may create a new incentive by allowing former firefighters of inmates to ask a judge to withdraw their guilty plea after their release. The judge could choose to reject the allegations.
The expulsion would give ex-firefighters the opportunity to apply for more than 200 professions that require a state license. This is an opportunity most people with criminal records have missed, according to Eloise Reyes, a Democrat from San Bernardino who drafted the bill.
“These individuals received valuable training and put themselves at risk to defend the lives and property of Californians,” she said in a legal analysis. “Individuals who have successfully completed their service in the fire camps should receive special consideration for their underlying criminal conviction.”
The district attorney’s office opposed the bill, stating that deletion of criminal records should be restricted to subordinate offenders, few of whom remain in state prisons. The incentive should be limited to those who are sent to county prisons rather than state prisons.
Contributor: The Associated Press
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