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Firefighters battle flames north of L.A. in this 2008 photograph. Photo: Mike Meadows / AP

There are about 1,500 prisoners doing the grueling work of fighting California wildfires, including the record-breaking Camp Fire, according to the New York Times. This is a long-standing program in which inmates earn up to $3 a day for their volunteer work, but upon release it will be almost impossible for them to get a firefighting job in the state.

Why it matters: Many prisons offer educational and job training programs for inmates hoping to work in fields like cosmetology, firefighting or even law after serving their time. However, due to complicated occupational licensing laws that often result in denials of former criminals, the training is often useless after incarcerated men and women are released.

How it happens: It's not always an intentional discrimination against people with criminal histories, but "passivity and unintentionality," Katcher says. To become a firefighter, most departments require an EMT license, but EMT certifying boards have a pattern of denying applicants with a criminal history. Defenders of licensing regimes say they help screen out incompetent or poorly skilled potential employees and ensure minimum skill standards.

What's the point of letting people out ... [if] there's still an invisible prison around them?
— Prisoner rights advocate and founder of Root and Rebound Katherine Katcher told Axios

The big picture:

  • About 21% of California's 19 million workers hold licenses, according to the Little Hoover Commission.
  • "What we've seen is that not just people in reentry are impacted," Katcher says. "Prison programs across the county are training people for jobs, very well meaning, and then occupational licensing bars them from actually getting those jobs."
  • It's not just firefighters in California either, in some states, inmates can be trained as cosmetologists, but are unable to receive a cosmetology certification after their release.
  • Former convicts often face barriers to construction, tree trimming and truck driving jobs. Women also often face difficulty being hired for care taking professions.
  • These licensing laws disproportionally affect the lower-level jobs that inmates, who tend to have less formal education, are more likely to qualify for, Katcher says.
  • People of color with criminal histories are impacted most by licensing laws, according to studies by the National Employment Law Project.
  • Groups on all sides of the political spectrum, from ACLU to the Heritage Foundation, have been advocating to change how occupational licensing laws work, according to Lee McGrath, the managing attorney at the conservative Institute for Justice.

Go deeper

Updated 8 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: How data and the pandemic have democratized the "high-performance lifestyle — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: Pfizer begins study on 3rd vaccine dose as booster shot against new strains — Republicans are least likely to want the coronavirus vaccine
  3. U.S. news: California surpasses 50,000 deaths COVID-19 deaths, more than any other state — Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter return to church after receiving COVID-19 vaccines
  4. Local: Public transit ridership in Twin Cities dropped 53% amid pandemic — Data firm predicts "complete chaos" in next phases of Florida's vaccine rolloutAlaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy tests positive for the coronavirus

Acting Capitol Police chief: Phone logs show Jan. 6 National Guard approval was delayed

Pittman at a congressional tribute for fallen officer Brian Sicknick. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman testified on Thursday that cellphone records show former USCP chief Steven Sund requested National Guard support from the House sergeant-at-arms as early as 12:58pm on Jan. 6, but he did not receive approval until over an hour later.

Why it matters: Sund and former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving clashed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday over a dispute in the timeline for when Capitol Police requested the National Guard during the Capitol insurrection.

Manhattan prosecutors reportedly obtain millions of pages of Trump's tax records

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Manhattan district attorney is now in possession of millions of pages of former President Trump's tax and financial records, CNN first reported, following a Supreme Court ruling that allowed prosecutors to enforce a subpoena after a lengthy legal battle.

Why it matters: Trump fought for years to keep his tax returns out of the public eye and away from prosecutors in New York, who are examining his business in a criminal investigation that was first sparked by hush-money payments made by Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen during the 2016 election.

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