On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that will allow former non-violent prisoner firefighters to have their records expunged to allow them to be hired as firefighters.
A bill that may help solve the desperate need for wildfire fighters
Assembly Bill 2147, authored by Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes (D-Grand Terrace), specifically notes that those who successfully participated in the California Conservation Camp Program or a county incarcerated individual hand crew and has since been released can have their records expunged. However, this comes with many conditions. Former prisoners cannot have any violent or sexual crimes on their record. Former prisoners would also have to directly petition the court for their records being expunged and not be automatic. Court-ordered probation, parole, and supervision would be removed if expunging is granted, but only if the former prisoner hasn’t violated any of the terms of release.
CA’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.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 11, 2020
The bill was written in response to the growing number of wildfires, the numerous states of emergency enacted this year in response to the wildfires, the severe shortage of prisoner firefighters due to COVID-19 releasing many early, the plight of trained wildfire fighters unable to be hired due to jail time, and the shortage allowing many wildfires to spread more than they would have if prisoner firefighters were there. According to the bill, this could potentially bring in thousands of prisoners with wildfire fighting experience into firefighting and wild fire fighting units.
Governor Newsom even noted lasted year that “Some of the toughest work that’s done out there on the lines, some of the most important work, is done by these hand crews.”
Governor Newsom signs AB 2147 in middle of burned out forest
But on Friday, Governor Newsom traveled to a burned-out section of forest in Butte County recently destroyed by the North Complex Fire to announce the signing, as well as to point out the climate emergency in California.
“There is a climate emergency,” explained Newsom. “This is real. It is here now, California is America fast-forward. What we’re experiencing is coming to communities all across America unless we get our act together. This is a climate damn emergency.
“Inmates who have stood on the front lines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter.”
Governor Newsom then capped off the visit by signing AB 2147 while sitting at the remains of a picnic table in the forest.
Former prisoners kept from fighting fires were pleased with Friday’s signing.
“This is all we could have hoped for,” explained Victor Gabarra, a former prisoner wildfire fighter who hasn’t been able to find work as a firefighter due to his record, in an interview with the Globe. “They’re at least hundreds short this year, I think 600 at last count. And look, a lot of the state is still on fire.”
“This allows them to bridge this gap with us. We went into jail for non-violent offenses, paid our debt to society, and now many of us just want that chance again to lead a normal life, and now this opportunity is there to do it while also still giving back to society by putting out these fires. I know hiring and forgiving criminals isn’t well thought of by some, but with our skills and how many of us really want to get back out there and do this, I think we deserve a chance to prove ourselves and save some people and forest in the process.”
“Any judge worth his salt will know the difference between those of us trying to get our records expunged for the sake of it and getting our records expunged to help. California needs all the help it can get.”
AB 2147 will come into effect on January 1st, allowing the first wave of former prisoner firefighters to be ready in time for the 2021 wildfire season.