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California opens door for inmate firefighters to expunge their criminal records

Inmates who join prison firefighting can get their convictions erased after release so they can join fire departments under legislation signed by Gov. Newsom.

Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference.
Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference.
The Mercury News via Getty Images
Updated: September 13, 2020 - 8:59am

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation allowing inmate firefighters to get their criminal records dismissed so they can qualify for civilian firefighting jobs after they are released.

The law enacted Friday allows prisoners to petition courts to expunge their convictions after they receive "valuable training and place themselves in danger assisting firefighters to defend the life and property of Californians."

The dismissal opens the door for model inmate firefighters to qualify for paramedic certification, a requirement for civilian fire departments. Currently, those with convictions are barred by state law from becoming an EMT.

"Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter," Newsom said as he signed the law Friday.

The legislation was sponsored Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes. 

"Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism," she said. "We must get serious about providing pathways for those that show the determination to turn their lives around."