Couple Critical Errors

…in an otherwise well-intended and worthy effort. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) wants to make it possible for prison inmates who have been trained in firefighting and have place[d] themselves in danger assisting firefighters to defend the life and property of Californians to join fire departments after they’ve been released from prison.

Long-time readers of my blog know that I am a firm believer in rehabilitation and redemption, and this move would open one path to each of those.

There are a couple of tweaks, though, that are necessary for making this a truly effective move. One is this: Newsom has signed into law

legislation allowing inmate firefighters to get their criminal records dismissed so they can qualify for civilian firefighting jobs after they are released.

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.

I don’t agree, generally, with expunging criminal records when the crimes were committed by adults. In this sort of case, though, it would be appropriate to seal an (ex-)felon’s record so he can apply to a fire department.

A better option, however, would be to alter the State’s law regarding EMT eligibility to permit ex-felons otherwise trained as firefighters (even if trained while in prison) to become EMTs for the purpose of joining a fire department as a firefighter. (And, if that works out after some number of years of empirical observation, expanding the eligibility of ex-felons to become EMTs more generally.)

The other is one of mindset.

Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter[.]

Rather, inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the opportunity to later become a professional firefighter. No one has a right to any particular job, or career, or avocation. All of us do have a right to opportunity.

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