SACRAMENTO—On Sunday, August 30, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 2147, written by Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), which will make it easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to become firefighters upon their release.
The California Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 51-12 with most Democrats in support. Eleven Republicans and one Democrat, Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, voted against the bill. The primary external opposition to AB 2147 was the California District Attorney’s Association.
As mentioned in the text of the bill, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation operates 44 Conservation Camps in partnership with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL-FIRE) in 27 counties across California. In recent years, hundreds of California prisoners have worked alongside full-time firefighters to help fight the biggest wildfires that have ravaged this state. For instance, over 400 prisoners helped to fight the Kincade Fire in late October 2019. Since early 2017, three incarcerated people have died while trying to contain a fire.
Currently, inmates get paid next to nothing for fighting fires, and are generally prohibited from working as paid firefighters upon their release. Their criminal records often prevent them from becoming emergency medical technicians (EMT), a certification required in California to become a firefighter.
AB 2147 will make it possible for released low-level offenders who worked on a fire hand-crew in prison to petition a court to have their criminal records immediately removed and their parole terminated. By doing so, they will be able to get EMT certified and become paid firefighters. The bill excludes people convicted of certain serious crimes like rape or murder.
After the bill passed, its author Assemblywomen Reyes tweeted, “If we really want to bring about change and lower our recidivism rates, we have to ensure that those that have served their sentences have an opportunity for meaningful employment. Those that have served on the fire lines deserve a second chance.”
Since the bill has been passed by the CA state legislature, Governor Gavin Newsom has until September 30 to sign the bill into law.