State measure to allow inmates help fight wildfires in California

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – California inmates who have been helping to put out wildfires are getting a chance to pursue a permanent career in firefighting.

It’s thanks to a state measure lawmakers approved this week.

Former inmates who took part in a firefighting program run by the Department of Corrections will get their records cleared so they can apply for a firefighting job.

But only if their crimes did not include arson, murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or any felony that could get them the death penalty.

One of the bill’s co-authors believes this will reduce the risk of them landing in prison again after their release.

“If you want to reduce recidivism rates if you want to make sure someone is successful when they get out of prison give them opportunities. And there’s no doubt especially with those who have been fighting fires they have earned respect. And whether they earn an expungement or not should at least be up for debate and it should be something that a judge should be able to decide. But I think many of those that are fighting these fires are absolutely doing the exact same work as the firefighters that are trained and licensed that are bravely fighting these fires. So these are individuals that have worked hard, they paid their debt to society, and they are trained in a field that we so desperately need people in,” San Jose Assemblymember Ash Kalra said. 

Inmate firefighters are often the first sent to the scene to create fire lines using hand tools. 

During the pandemic many of them were unable to help this year which highlighted how heavily the state relies on their work. 

As of August 25, there are more than 1,300 incarcerated firefighters. 

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