[9/14/20] – California Bill Allows Firefighter Inmates to Pursue the Career upon Release

On September 11, California Governor Gavin Newson signed AB-2147, a bill that would make inmate firefighters eligible to pursue the profession once they have been released from prison. The bill will allow people who are incarcerated that worked as firefighters to petition the courts to have their records expunged once they have completed their sentences. According to NPR, the dismissal of the convictions will make these individuals eligible to receive EMT training that is required by municipal firefighter departments. The bill excludes people who are convicted of committing violent crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, rape, arson, or any felony that is punishable by either death or life imprisonment.

Shortly after signing AB-2147, Newson tweeted a statement that California’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.” According to the bill, about 800 incarcerated people assisted firefighters with the Camp Fire and over 400 helped with the Kincade Fire. Approximately 2,600 people who are incarcerated that work in California’s conservation camp program are fire-line qualified. However, those numbers have decreased due to COVID-19 and the state’s early release of low-level offenders.

The California Department of Corrections (CDCR), in cooperation with Cal Fire, operates 43 conservation camps in the state. According to CNN, the hundreds of people who are incarcerated in these camps support government agencies in their responses to both natural and man-made disasters. On average, people who are incarcerated can earn up to $4.63 a day when on “active” duty. According to NPR, these programs have saved the state of California $100 million annually, but critics say the program is comparable to modern day slave labor. Critics point out that people of color are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated, highlighting racial disparities in California’s prison labor system.

While the new bill is considered to be a “second chance” for these inmates, Politico reported that some members of the law enforcement community as well as prosecutors within the state oppose the bill. Opponents argue that “those who serve time in prisons have already been deemed a higher risk and would pose a danger to the public.”

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.

The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.



  • Writing: Explain how providing a pathway to a career can help people who were incarcerated reduce their likelihood of recidivism.
  • Debate: People who worked as firefighters during their time in prison should be allowed to pursue the career upon their release. (Agree or Disagree.)
  •  Poll: People who worked as firefighters during their time in prison should receive compensation equal to their non-inmate counterparts. (Agree or Disagree.)
  • Short Answer: How does AB-2147 address some of the issues in California’s inmate firefighter program?

Cover Image: ©iStockphoto.com/JPhilipson

Which component of the criminal justice system would you like to see more coverage of in future Lecture Sparks?

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