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California bill to ease pathway for former inmates to become firefighters




California's Volunteer Inmate Firefighters work as a group in West Hills, California on November 11, 2018, as they continue their battle to control the Woolsey Fire.
California's Volunteer Inmate Firefighters work as a group in West Hills, California on November 11, 2018, as they continue their battle to control the Woolsey Fire.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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A bill introduced by Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino) last month is looking to help former inmate firefighters pursue the career after their release.

The bill, AB 1211, would ease current regulations to help former convicts who demonstrate “rehabilitation and a desire to work” continue fighting fires after their sentence. Currently, individuals who intend on pursuing a career as a firefighter must acquire an EMT license, which can be denied if the applicant has been convicted of at least two felonies, if they have been on parole or probation, or if they’ve been imprisoned in the last 10 years.

Although the legislation is still being drafted, opposition to the measure has already surfaced. Critics argue that inmate firefighters do not meet the high demands required for the job, while supporters say the current limitations are too strict and bar people with criminal records from the option of becoming a firefighter.  

We debate the bill.

Guests:

Katherine Katcher, executive director of Root & Rebound, an Oakland-based criminal justice reform and advocacy organization

Carroll Wills, communications director at California Professional Firefighters, the state union representing professional firefighters and departments throughout California