Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Second chance for inmate firefighters

Compassion | A new California bill opens the door to a clear record
by Charissa Koh
Posted 10/28/20, 04:01 pm

Prisoners who help fight the California wildfires now have the chance to make it a career. California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 11 signed a bill that allows those inmates to request a record expungement so they can get firefighting jobs after release. People convicted of violent felonies or sex crimes are not eligible.

California prisoners can work in one of 44 conservation camps around the state. The minimum-security facilities help state and local government agencies respond to disasters, mostly wildfires. Inmates earn $2 to $5 per day, plus an additional dollar per hour when actively fighting fires. In 2018, nearly 800 inmates helped battle the devastating Camp Fire. But upon release, their criminal history prevented them from getting EMT licenses, a requirement for becoming a firefighter.

Prison Fellowship and others praised the expungement offer but are still pushing the state to lift the ban on other occupational licenses for prisoners.

“If we’re going to place a ban on a type of job or any other opportunity post-release, it should really be narrowly tailored to where there are true public safety concerns,” said Heather Rice-Minus, Prison Fellowship’s senior vice president of advocacy and church mobilization. “As much as possible, we want to allow people to live out a meaningful second chance.”

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Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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