Nick Sibilla, a legislative analyst at the Institute for Justice, has published this fine op ed piece in today’s USA Today, describing how the 2,000 state prisoners currently engaged in fighting the largest fire in California history, are barred from obtaining the necessary EMT license that would enable them to continue this work after their release. It contains, inter alia, a description of the two bills currently pending in the California legislature that would end what Nick describes as a “bitterly ironic” situation, where prisoners gain valuable training in certain vocations that they cannot use after their release. The piece seems particularly relevant, in light of the amazing work being done on occupational licensing reform across the country, much of it inspired by the Institute for Justice’s Model Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act. See, e.g. New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, and Tennessee. We hope California will soon join this group of enlightened jurisdictions, and that other states will follow in the coming year.
Despite fighting California’s largest fires, inmates are denied licenses they need to become firefighters after they get out.
by Nick Sibilla, USA Today, August 20, 2018
As California struggles to contain the largest fire in state history, more than 2,000 inmates have volunteered to fight the flames. Offering just $1 an hour, the state has long encouraged low-level prisoners to risk their lives and serve alongside professional firefighters, who earn nearly $74,000 a year on average. Firefighting, along with less life-threatening trades like plumbing, welding, and cosmetology, is one of several vocational training programs offered to prisoners by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
But in a bitterly ironic twist, once inmates leave prison, they often can’t work as firefighters, despite their frontline experience. In California, nearly all counties require firefighters to become licensed emergency medical technician (EMTs) — a credential that can be denied to almost anyone with a criminal record.