On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates to pursue a career as a firefighter.
As HuffPost reports, Newsome approved the measures as the state continues to battle wildfires that have already claimed over two million acres. Emergency responders and services have been pushed to the limit amid the fires, and as such, there's been a huge demand for more firefighters. A high number of incarcerated individuals who have previously worked for inmate firefighting squads, often for $3 a day, have until now been unable to apply for an EMT license. That same license is required by law in order to work for most of California's fire agencies, regardless of the felony conviction they have on record.
"CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform," wrote Newsom in a tweet in which he revealed he signed the bill. "Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter. Today, I signed #AB2147 that will fix that."
The bill will allow thousands of prisoners "that are on the front lines, that are near the end of their time in prison, that are getting credits, and want the opportunity," he added. As of right now, there's around 2,500 inmates trained to fight fires, and the new bill will mean the state can expedite the process of inmates requesting their criminal records be expunged in order to allow them to become firefighters.
"These individuals are vetted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, under CDCR’s strict criteria, and they assist with protecting communities all across this state during our fire seasons which have become more frequent and more deadly," said assembly member Eloise Reyes in a statement this summer after proposing the bill. "If we are willing to allow an incarcerated person to volunteer and help fight fires - protecting lives and property while putting their lives at risk; then we should be willing to allow those same individuals an opportunity to receive an expungement which can be granted after judicial review."