Sep 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

California law to ease process for former inmates to become professional firefighters

Inmate firefighters arrive at the scene of the Water fire in Whitewater, California
Inmate firefighters arrive at the scene of California's Water fire. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law on Friday that will allow some inmates who volunteer as firefighters to have their records expunged, making it easier for them to become professional firefighters after being released from prison.

Why it matters: Inmate firefighters play a pivotal role in battling blazes across the state, but once released, they are required to disclose their convictions when applying for jobs, making it harder to get hired.

What he's saying: "CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform," Newsom tweeted Friday, along with a picture of him signing the law surrounded by a scorched area.

  • "Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter."

The big picture: About 3,700 incarcerated people are part of California's inmate firefighter program, with roughly 2,600 qualified to work fire lines.

  • More than 14,800 firefighters are currently fighting 28 major wildfires burning across California, according to Cal Fire.
  • At least 10 people have died in the the North Complex fire, which has destroyed or damaged about 2,000 structures, per AP.
  • The August Complex, currently raging north of Sacramento, is the biggest wildfire event in California history, consuming more than 746,607 acres.

Worth noting: Inmates convicted of serious crimes including, rape, murder, kidnapping or arson, will not be eligible for having their records expunged.

Inmate crews set backfires to heavy brush as firefighters try to keep the 2019 Easy fire from crossing the road.
Inmate crews set backfires to heavy brush as firefighters try to keep the 2019 Easy fire from crossing the road. Photo:  Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Inmate firefighters take a break while battling the 2019 Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California
Inmate firefighters walk the road leading to the Reagan Library during the 2019 Easy Fire in Simi Valley, California. Photo: Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Inmate firefighters take a break while battling the 2019 Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California.
Inmate firefighters take a break while battling the 2019 Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A crew of inmate firefighters takes a break during firefighting operations to battle the 2019 Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California.
A crew of inmate firefighters takes a break during firefighting operations to battle the 2019 Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California. Photo: Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images
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