A law that will allow inmate firefighters to have their records expunged, so they can pursue firefighting jobs after release, goes into effect in January. State Assemblymember Eloise Reyes hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday about the law she authored.
Thomas Stone, Interim Public Defender told the virtual audience his office is ready for an expected surge of applications from people who have been released for years but were not previously eligible to apply.
“But it’s going to plateau down the road," said Stone. "Once we get through those, I think the number of individuals who get released from fire camp on a yearly basis isn’t that much.”
There are between 1500 and 3000 people yearly in the inmate firefighter program. These inmates have been through a careful selection process which excludes people with convictions for certain violent and sex crimes.
Assemblymember Reyes believes this record-cleaning law gives these highly trained inmates, who have risked their lives fighting fires, a second chance. After release, it allows them to pursue firefighting or other careers that typically exclude people with criminal records.
“I think that if we look long term, the individuals who have completed the program are going to go on to find a career," said Reyes. "They will be paying taxes, contributing to the local economy. When we look at it now, it’s a lost loss because we spend and we spend and we spend on incarceration and prisons, only to release people with no hope for employment and creating more societal costs.”
There are still some limitations. Inmates who apply for teaching and law enforcement jobs will still have to disclose their conviction on their job application.