New California legislation making it simpler for ex-firefighters to run pro-NBC information
OAKLAND, California. – Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new bill on Friday that will expedite the process of deleting the crime records of formerly incarcerated volunteer firefighters.
The new law should make it a lot easier for them to obtain certification as paramedics. This is the first step in becoming a professional firefighter in most cities and counties.
For decades, thousands of firefighters across the state have been fighting forest fires, working with professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke.
However, the prisoners of men and women who put themselves at risk to save lives and property often find it impossible to use their fire fighting skills after their release, even in a state desperately seeking such workers.
CA's inmate firefighting program is decades old and has long had to be reformed.
Inmates who have been on the front lines fighting historic fires should not be denied the right to become professional firefighters later.
Today I signed # AB2147 to fix that. pic.twitter.com/15GJ7Gijt7
– Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 11, 2020
This system will now undergo a major change under AB 2147, which will make it easier for you to obtain certification as a paramedic. This is the first step in becoming a professional firefighter in most cities and counties.
Former inmates must disclose whether they have been convicted of a crime when applying for EMT programs and jobs. When the record is eliminated, they can be considered any other applicant. Some ex-inmates convicted of violent crimes such as arson, kidnapping and rape are not allowed to delete their records.
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"I think after seeing all these young men and women side by side with our other firefighters and knowing they had no hope of getting into this profession, I knew it was wrong and that we had to do something about it. " Congregation member Eloise Reyes, the author of the bill, said.
The law was supported by the prisoners' advocacy groups and at least one unlikely organization, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thank you to all of our firefighters and first responders, including our imprisoned men and women fighting the current California wildfires.
Human rights are everyone's rights.
Create a path for ex-inmates who successfully completed the fire camp while incarcerated. pic.twitter.com/U0j6TsfKBL
– Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 28, 2020
In California, about 3,700 inmates work under the inmate fire department program, of whom about 2,600 are qualified to work on fire lines.
Some law enforcement groups, including the Peace Officers Research Association of California, consider such a measure unnecessary and even dangerous.
Association president Brian Marvel said in a statement emailed that his organization values the work done by inmates and supports a way for low-ranking offenders to use their skills and experience to become firefighters after their release .
"However, if people who have been released from prison have their records deleted immediately, those who have been in prison will not have enough time to fully integrate into society," he said.
California lawmakers are pushing for ex-prisoners to be turned into firefighters. "Complete deletion of an offender's records in exchange for this work is unjustified, dangerous to the public, and does not recognize the impact on victims of the inmate's crimes," https://t.co/xexWttcliA
– PORAC (@PORACalifornia) September 2, 2020
Activists complain that the state's trust in detained workers to fight forest fires is unfair, as prisoners are only paid $ 1 an hour when working on an active line of fire. A professional firefighter just starting out can make around $ 40,000 a year.
The activists say the fact that the former inmates are working as regular firefighters in a state ravaged by increasingly frequent and severe forest fires outweighs the disadvantages.
"I'm definitely excited to see the bill passed, and I think it's a big step in the right direction," said Brandon Smith, executive director of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program, a nonprofit that helps former inmates who served as firefighters themselves in order to find professional, fire-related employment after their release from prison.
Smith said the law would likely benefit first-time offenders who are less likely to face other disqualifying circumstances than someone like him, who has two separate criminal convictions that need to be cleared.
Please @GavinNewsom sign # AB2147 !!! These brave firefighters, Sugar Pine CC Crew # 6 (I took this house down) saved our house and many others in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Risking their lives, these brave HEREOS deserve the opportunity to make careers after their release! #calfire pic.twitter.com/M4rz4y6di0
– Stormy Strong (@stormystrong) September 10, 2020
His organization will prepare lawyers to file the relevant applications on behalf of qualified offenders, he said.
"I can't wait to get back to the line of fire," he said, adding that his grandparents recently received an evacuation warning at their Altadena home because a Bobcat fire was burning in the Angeles National Forest outside of Los Angeles. "I want to be out there, I want to help the community."
The district that Reyes represents in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles is being devastated by the El Dorado fire, and she said relief couldn't come soon enough.
"We need more firefighters and we need a second chance opportunity," she said. "We have to reward rehabilitation."
Cyrus Farivar is a reporter for the technical investigation division of NBC News in San Francisco.