California Governor slammed as 'irresponsible' for allowing inmate firefighters to become professionals

The bill signed by Gavin Newsom gives former inmates the chance to have their records expunged and have their parole waived off because of their time as firefighters

                            California Governor slammed as 'irresponsible' for allowing inmate firefighters to become professionals
Gavin Newsom (Getty Images)

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new bill on September 11 to reform the inmate firefighter program in the US state. The bill will allow inmate firefighters in California to have their records cleared, making way for them to become professional firefighters once they are released from prison. The law provides former inmates the chance to have their records expunged and have their parole waived off because of their time as firefighters.

Making the announcement on Twitter, Newsom wrote, "CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform. Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter. Today, I signed #AB2147 that will fix that."


According to CNN affiliate KABC, Newsom called the inmate firefighters "heroic" and said that the law will give thousands of them opportunity and hope. Speaking about the law, Eloise Gomez Reyes, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said that this measure is about second chances. "To correct is to right a wrong; to rehabilitate is to restore. Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism. We must get serious about providing pathways for those that show the determination to turn their lives around," Reyes said.

Inmates who have committed violent felonies or sexual crimes are not eligible to petition to have their records cleared. The system will undergo a significant change under AB 2147, making it easier for inmate firefighters to earn an emergency medical technician certification — the first step in becoming a professional firefighter in most cities and counties.
However, this didn’t sit well with netizens with many taking to Twitter to express their disappointment over the new law. A huge number of users stated that they do not agree with the bill allowing inmate firefighters in California to have their records cleared. One user tweeted, "I don’t agree with this. Depending on the crime, of course. These individuals will have full access to some homes, stations, medications, bodies, private property, etc. Firefighters go through extreme backgrounds to achieve employment. I think this is irresponsible."


Another one wrote, "Once a convict, always a convict. Change my mind." A user stated that he knows many school students who would want to become firefighters and pointed that they should be given a chance before prisoners. "What?? I know many students in school to become firefighters what about recruiting them before letting our prisoners,” the user tweeted.



Another one, seemingly disappointed with the new bill, tweeted, "I would have no problem with this if no one else wanted those jobs. But a lot of people would like to be firemen, but can’t land those coveted jobs. So I don’t think they should get a fast track to hiring. Expunging their record is fine if they first serve their full sentence." Another user tweeted, "Their records should not be expunged! That’s nuts! Make it discriminatory to not hire those w/ records cause I don’t trust the system in releasing only 'non-violent' prison sentences."



While a few others spoke in favor of the bill, stating that inmates should be given a second chance. One user tweeted, "The crews (men and women) you see out on the lines are not dangerous offenders. They're good at it, they work their butts off and deserve a shot. A job is the best way to prevent recidivism. One of my best firefighters was a former inmate." Another one wrote, "Ask anyone that has served time. It's a privilege to work, even if it's for free. Yes increase their wages, but don't penalize the inmates wanting work."



One Twitter user wrote, "I mean. I think it should depend on their records. What they've been charged with how long are their sentences etc. Some people do clean themselves up." Another user tweeted, "For everyone freaking out, it’s non violent offenses first off and secondary these folks are making cents and voluntarily putting their lives at risk to fight these fires so if they decided that they want a better life and want to joint the fire dept after getting out so be it."



California has supplemented its firefighting efforts with minimum security inmates for decades. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) operates 43 conservation camps throughout the state. Hundreds of inmates have been used every year to battle recent fires. The bill that Newsom signed says three inmate firefighters have died since 2017.

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