Friday, Governor Newsom (while sitting at an ash-covered picnic table) signed Assembly Bill 2147 into law, allowing inmates who have worked as firefighters to ask for the dismissal of their charges — which will make it feasible for them to become professional firefighters once they're released.
Historically speaking, California's incarcerated are among the most unfairly leveraged population in the state. From long hours spent doing warehouse services to putting their lives at risk while battling historic wildfires, daily earnings rarely go above $5 for any CA prisoner. More specifically, one 2017 report released by the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-partisan nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts, showed hourly wages for California prisoner jobs never climbed higher than $0.95 an hour; the New York Times found that incarcerated firefighters battling this year's historic wildfires are only paid $1 an hour when tending to the front lines.
At the site of the North Complex Fire today, Governor @GavinNewsom signed @AsmReyes47's #AB2147 eliminating barriers that prevent former inmate fire crews from pursuing a career as a firefighter once they served their time. #CaliforniaForAll pic.twitter.com/tT3D18UJWK— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) September 11, 2020
That's borderline slave labor — and there's no cordial nor sugar-coated way around the fact.
As reported by NPR, Newsom yesterday signed into law Assembly Bill 2147, which was sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, to let prisoners who received "valuable training and [placed] themselves in danger assisting firefighters to defend the life and property of Californians" to ask the courts to dismiss their convictions after completing their sentences.
CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 11, 2020
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. pic.twitter.com/15GJ7Gijt7
"Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter," Newsom tweeted alongside a picture of him signing the bill into law.
EMT certification — a hiring requirement of California's municipal firefighting departments — was previously off-limits to former inmates, per state law, which is now no longer the case.
"AB 2147 will fix that," Newsom added.
However, certain restrictions do still remain in the bill. For example, individuals convicted of "violent felonies, including murder, kidnapping and sex offenses" aren't allowed to battle wildfires while incarcerated, meaning they're excluded from applying to have their records expunged by a court of law.
According to NPR, California employs roughly 200 inmate crews each year to fight wildfires. But because of COVID-19, that number was drastically cut this year to somewhere between 113 to 192 "possible crew."
This news, too, comes after many California prisons initiated the early release of low-security and low-risk populations of prisoners amid the pandemic — many of whom, as noted by CNBC, served as firefighters at one point and are now eligible to pursue professional firefighter training.
Image: Courtesy of Issy Bailey