California just made it easier for inmate firefighters to become professionals, allowing them to have their nonviolent criminal records wiped clean

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Inmate firefighters arrive at the scene of the Water fire, a new start about 20 miles from the Apple fire in Whitewater, California on August 2, 2020. - More than 1,300 firefighters were battling a blaze that was burning out of control August 2 in southern California, threatening thousands of people and homes east of Los Angeles. The so-called Apple Fire that broke out Friday near the city of San Bernardino has so far charred more than 20,000 acres, sending up columns of smoke visible from far away.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday that allows formerly incarcerated firefighters to have their nonviolent criminal records expunged.
  • Over 1,200 incarcerated people are currently serving as firefighters in California, paid a couple of dollars per day for their service.
  • "This legislation rights a historic wrong and recognizes the sacrifice of thousands of incarcerated people who have helped battle wildfires in our state," Newsom said in a statement.
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California is making it easier for formerly incarcerated firefighters to go professional, with a new law enabling nonviolent offenders to have their criminal records expunged.

For decades, liberal California has relied on its massive prison population to fight wildfires. Detained men and women are trained on how to fight blazes, sleeping in camps, and earning a couple of dollars a day. But until now they were largely unable to put that experience to use once free.

In a statement on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was signing a bill, AB 2147, to fix that.

"This legislation rights a historic wrong and recognizes the sacrifice of thousands of incarcerated people who have helped battle wildfires in our state," Newsom said.

Many fire departments reject candidates with a troubled legal past. Under AB 2147, formerly incarcerated people can petition a county court to have that past excised.

"I am thrilled we have this law on the books," Romarilyn Ralston, a formerly incarcerated woman who fought fires while an inmate, told Business Insider. "It is long overdue."

California has more than 1,200 incarcerated firefighters, The Fresno Bee reported, with prisoners helping fight some of the largest fires in state history, a million acres already torched.

"Signing AB 2147 into law is about giving second chances. To correct is to right a wrong; to rehabilitate is to restore," Assemblymember Gomez Reyes, the bill's author, said in a statement. "Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism."

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