Newsom signs legislation allowing pathway for inmate firefighters to become professional after release

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia governor Newsom signs bill extending family leave to small businesses California family frustrated that governor, Harris used fire-damaged property for 'photo opportunity' Pac-12 moves toward 'return to competition' after Big Ten announces resumption of football season MORE (D) signed legislation Friday creating a pathway for inmate firefighters to become professionals after they are released. 

The bill, AB2147, allows certain prisoners who are on the front lines of wildfire containment to have their records expunged after serving their sentences. 

Without the barrier of a criminal record, the former prisoners can seek employment as firefighters. The bill excludes those convicted of certain crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, rape, arson or any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.

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The news comes as California and other West Coast states combat devastating wildfires that have already killed 27 people as of Saturday afternoon. 

Climate change has lead to hotter, drier Augusts, and last month the region saw an increased number of lightening storms known to spark fires in the area. 

Newsom posted an image of him signing the bill against the backdrop of burnt forest near Lake Oroville, one of the regions hardest-hit by the wildfires in the state.

“CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform,” Newsom wrote on Twitter. “Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter.”

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Cal Fire trains minimum security prison inmates and pays them $1 per hour while in the field and $2 per day when they're not on duty, according to The Associated Press. Inmates also qualify to have their sentences reduced for each day spent fighting wildfires. 

According to the bill, nearly 800 inmate firefighters helped battle the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County and 400 helped with the Kincade Fire in the Napa Valley in 2019.

In August, Cal Fire reported having an inmate firefighter shortage this year after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced its decision to release as many as 17,600 inmates early to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons, according to CNN.