As wildfires continue to burn across the western United States, many have raised concerns about the exploitation of incarcerated individuals used to combat the blazes. Now, California has passed a bill that will allow formerly incarcerated individuals to pursue a career in firefighting after release.
Despite logging about 3 million hours of response to fires and other emergencies and 7 million hours in community service projects, as well as going through rigorous CalFire training, incarcerated firefighters only make between $2.90 and $5.12 per day, plus $1 per hour when actively fighting a fire. With the new bill, previously incarcerated firefighters in California with nonviolent offenses will be given the opportunity to have their records expunged upon release, allowing them to pursue careers in firefighting.
One significant barrier this bill eliminates is access to an emergency medical technician’s (EMT) license. The state of California denies EMT certification to anyone who has been convicted of two or more felonies, is on parole or probation, or has committed any kind of felony within the last decade. Once their record is cleared, these individuals still have to obtain their EMT license, but now they have the option to do so.
Reducing recidivism rates relies heavily on creating opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals to support themselves with meaningful work after release. This new bill paves the way for the over 3,000 inmates actively working with conservation and firefighting crews to continue to use their training for stable employment after release. In an age where California will continue to see more and more climate-driven wildfires, this is a big solution for empowering the previously incarcerated and protecting our communities from natural disasters.