Senator Glazer’s legislation would allow formerly incarcerated to join the California Conservation Corps to prevent fires
SACRAMENTO – A Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday by Senator Steve Glazer, D-Contra Costa, to allow formerly incarcerated individuals to work on managing forests and clearing brush to help prevent wildfires.
The bill, SB 804, approved by the Senate Natural Resources & Water committee on an 8-0 vote, would create a pilot program for former inmates who worked on fire crews while incarcerated to clear brush and assist in forest management to meet the state’s wildfire mitigation goals and reduce recidivism.
This legislation would create a center in northern California to train formerly incarcerated people in forestry management, thereby reducing the risk of deadly wildfires, while offering these qualified individuals a pathway to gainful employment.
“We’ve had a string of devastating and deadly wildfires, and they are likely to continue for years to come,” Senator Glazer said. “We need to increase the number of qualified individuals who can help prevent these wildfires, and my bill would do that. It would also open the door to people trying to get a second chance in life with good, constructive work.”
One way to reduce the devastation of wildfires is to proactively engage in forestry and vegetation management. This includes practices that work to maintain forest health by reducing fire hazards and restoring ecosystems. One of the greatest obstacles to this practice, however, is a lack of a trained workforce.
This bill seeks to fill that void by establishing a program where graduates would be eligible for an entry-level forestry position with the state. California already allows incarcerated individuals to work on firefighting crews. In fact, these individuals perform 3 million hours of firefighting work and 7 million hours of community work each year. Further, the work they do also has great rehabilitative value.
Dave Winnacker, Fire Chief of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District, told the committee that it makes sense to make use of a large pool of talent that can offer critical aid in fire prevention efforts.
“What is needed is access to trained fuel mitigation and fire line hand crews which can undertake the laborious process of thinning concentrated fuels and creating control lines,” Winnacker said. “In our area, as in most urban areas of the state, these resources simply do not exist and bringing crews in from out of state or distant rural areas increases the cost and makes their use on small to mid-sized projects impractical.”
“At the same time, highly trained and experienced people sit idle in our immediate area, simply because their experience and their previously held qualifications were gained while wearing Orange Nomex on a (California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation) crew. The opportunity to address these two critical issues at the same time is too good to be missed.”
Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said she was “proud to co-author SB 804 to provide a pathway to a forestry career for the many Californians who fought wildfires while they were incarcerated. The East Bay Training Center established by SB 804 would further train these formerly incarcerated individuals and prepare them for entry-level forestry positions with the state.”
Senator Josh Becker, D-Peninsula, a co-author, called SB 804 a “win-win” for California.
“This legislation helps California build the resilience of our forests and the resilience of our community members who are re-entering society,” Becker said. “By prioritizing the formerly incarcerated who have successfully served with California Conservation Camp crews, the program will enable these individuals to build their knowledge and experience so they are job-ready and have a pathway for employment as they re-enter our community.”