AB 2147, legislation by Assemblymember Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino) which provides an expedited expungement process for formerly incarcerated individuals who have successfully participated with fire suppression activities has been signed by Governor Newsom making California the first state in the nation to provide this type of relief to the formerly incarcerated that served as inmate firefighters.
“Signing AB 2147 into law is about giving second chances. To correct is to right a wrong; to rehabilitate is to restore.” Assemblymember Reyes continued, “Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career, is a pathway to recidivism. We must get serious about providing pathways for those who show the determination and commitment to turn their lives around.”
Under existing law, once released from custody a formerly incarcerated individual must finish the terms of their parole before applying for expungement of their criminal record. Even once those records are expunged, the person must disclose their criminal history on applications for state licenses. With nearly 200 occupations that require licensing from one of 42 California government departments and agencies these formerly incarcerated individuals are almost entirely denied access to these jobs. An estimated 2.5 million California workers (nearly 20% of the state’s workforce) need a professional license to work. Under, AB 2147 a person who participates as part of a state or county fire camp would be eligible to apply for expungement upon release from custody, and if the expungement is approved could seek various career pathways including those that require a state license.
Several studies have concluded that occupational licensing restrictions have a direct correlation on recidivism rates. For example, The Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University found that states with the most occupational licensing restrictions saw an increase in the three year recidivism rate of over 9%, while states without the same restrictions saw an average decline in recidivism of 2.5%, and concluded, “a low occupational licensing burden had a significant impact on a state’s ability to lower its new crime recidivism rate. In terms of impact, the occupational licensing burden was second only to the overall labor market conditions in significantly influencing movements in the recidivism rate.”
In an average year, the Conservation Camp Program provides approximately three million person-hours responding to fires and other emergencies and seven million person-hours in community service projects, saving California taxpayers approximately $100 million annually.
Several counties across the state, including Los Angeles and San Bernardino operate fire training academies for those incarcerated in a county jail utilizing several hundred jail incarcerated individuals to fight fires. This bill includes those that have served in county fire camps.
Despite their low-level risk status, dedication and willingness to put themselves in harm’s way, many who participate in these programs struggle to find permanent and stable employment once released. This is in part due to significant barriers in place for individuals with a prior conviction to seek employment or even the education necessary to start a career.
AB 2147 becomes state law on January 1, 2021.