California is in dire need of more firefighters while facing a trend of longer wildfire seasons amid a growing climate crisis.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employs the use of inmates from Conservation Fire Camps to fight fires alongside professional firefighters in collaboration with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, inmates receive the same entry level training as professional firefighters from Cal Fire and are on good behavior without violent offenses. The wage is set between $2 and $5 per day, plus an additional $1 per hour when actively working on a fire. Participating inmates can cut two days off their sentences for every day that they serve, potentially reducing their sentences in half.
Once the inmate has been released, all the attained training and skills are now up in smoke. Under state law, nearly all firefighters are required to obtain an emergency medical technician license, which is blocked to anyone with a criminal record.
Risking your life as an inmate for a sentence reduction only to have your newly acquired skills and training not transcribe to your readjustment to society is inexcusably bizarre and downright unjust. It also completely goes against the core essence of corrections and rehabilitation.
We, the Viewpoints Editorial Board, firmly believe that an inmate who goes through strenuous and heroic work as a firefighter has earned the opportunity to reintegrate into society with a full time job in the field after being released.
Life after prison is already filled with serious repercussions that make it hard for any formerly incarcerated person to find somewhere to live, to find a job or to live a day free of stigma.
Brave men and women who put their lives in life or death situations to serve the public during an emergency deserve an opportunity to ease their burdens of being formerly incarcerated despite their nonviolent criminal records. Allowing released felons with frontline experience in firefighting to obtain an E.M.T certification will help put them on a pathway toward being a functioning member of society.
Individuals who have paid their debt back to society by serving their time in dangerous situations as firefighters should not be deemed a public safety risk. Being allowed to obtain an E.M.T license would give them a reason to keep from returning to prison.
The Los Angeles Times reported last July that the Department of the Interior had an expected hiring goal of 5,000 firefighters, but only managed to staff 4,500 without any plans to hire more to fill the gap. This, in part, emanated from the longest government shutdown in U.S. history causing the cancellation of training workshops for firefighters and slowed the hiring process.
With less individuals seeking seasonal jobs that are physically and mentally exhausting as a firefighter, we are in no position to deny non violent offenders the opportunity to serve the public since it benefits everyone involved.