SACRAMENTO, Calif. - On Friday Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2147 into law, which helps clear the path for some inmate firefighters to attain careers in the field post-prison.
"I brought this piece of legislation appropriately I thought here today, that will give these future firefighters and emergency personnel a chance by getting them an opportunity to expunge their records-- giving them a chance to get a certificate, getting a chance to potentially a career ladder coming out of prison," Gov. Newsom said Friday as he toured a burn site of the North Complex Fire in Northern California.
Under the state's Conservation Camp (Fire) Program there are currently 44 camps up and down the state where inmate firefighters work alongside crews from CalFire and other agencies.
In order to participate, The Conservation Camp (Fire Program) says "volunteers must have 'minimum custody' status, or the lowest classification for inmates based on their sustained good behavior in prison, their conforming to rules within the prison and participation in rehabilitative programming."
There are about 3,100 inmates in the camps, with about 2,200 of them properly trained to work the fire lines.
Under the new law, if inmates are granted relief the courts have the option to terminate parole, probation or supervised released as long as the inmate does not violate any terms or conditions during the petition process.
In a statement the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation released a statement that read in part:
Under, AB 2147 a person that served as an incarcerated fire-fighting crew member would be eligible to apply for an expungement upon release from custody, and if the expungement is approved, they then would be able to seek various career pathways including those that require a state licensee. Successful participation in an incarcerated hand crew would be determined by CDCR for those who were incarcerated in state prison and for those in county jails the local county authority would make the determination.
Inmates are automatically ineligible if they have been convicted of violent crimes that include murder, kidnapping, arson, and several other crimes.
"I’ve worked side-by-side with inmate crews for a lot of years. The one thing that I can say, probably that everybody can say, is that the inmate crews-- or we refer to them as hand crews-- they’re very well trained," Cathedral City Battalion Chief Eric Hauser said. "They’re well-disciplined, they work right alongside with many other firefighters that are deployed on these type of incidents."
Many inmate firefighters have been on the frontlines of some of the most recent incidents, including the Apple Fire and the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino National Forest.
"The work that they do is not pretty. They’re not out there with a fire hose putting a fire out, they’re doing all of that heavy lifting," said Batt. Chief Hauser.
The crews are responsible for strenuous tasks to clear brush and debris, construct firelines, remove fallen trees among many other duties.
In situations where resources are stretched thin, Batt. Chief Hauser said having additional crews is crucial to help agencies accomplish a greater amount of work.
"They’re doing the same work that every other firefighter is doing out there and they deserve some recognition," said Batt. Chief Hauser.