AB 2147: Expedited Expungement for Formerly Incarcerated Fire Camp Participants
In September 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2147 into law, which allows former non-violent incarcerated people who participated in one of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) conservation camp fire crews to have their records expunged to remove barriers so they can seek jobs as firefighters in the community. The new law went into effect on January 1, 2021.
CDCR, in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LAC FIRE), jointly operates 35 conservation camps, commonly known as fire camps, located in 25 counties.
The conservation camps make up approximately 152 of the state’s firefighting crews; and all incarcerated participants must earn their right to work in a conservation camp by their non-violent behavior and adhering to all rules while incarcerated. Only those incarcerated with a minimum-custody status are eligible to volunteer for assignment in conservation camps. Some conviction offenses automatically make an incarcerated person ineligible for conservation camp assignment, even if they have minimum-custody status, including sexual offenses, arson, and any history of escape with force or violence.
Under AB 2147, a person who served as an incarcerated fire camp crewmember would be eligible to apply for an expungement upon release from custody. The former incarcerated member must petition their sentencing court for the expungement. If the expungement is approved, they then would be able to seek various career pathways including those that require a state license. Successful participation in fire camp would be determined by CDCR for those who served their time in state prison. For those serving time in county jails, the local county authority would make the determination.
- Eligible for Minimum Custody Community Work detail.
- Maximum amount of time an incarcerated person may serve at camp is 8 years prior to release.
- Medical status must be vigorous activity, low risk for camp firefighting assignments. No physical, mental or dental limitations.
- Medical status must be full duty, low risk for camp support assignments. Minor physical limitations, no mental or dental issues.
- Must be at least 18 years of age.
- No Penal Code § 290 sexual offenses (requiring registration by the convicted person).
- No life sentence.
- Has not been sentenced for escape from a secure perimeter or for walk-away from a non-secure facility within the last 10 years.
- No conviction for arson.
- No felony holds.
- Validated active or inactive prison gang member or associate.
- No public interest cases.
- Current or prior convictions of murder, rape, or kidnap are automatically disqualified for camp placement. (Violent felonies pursuant to Penal Code Section 667.5(c))
- The incarcerated person must not have a pattern of excessive misconduct or have disrupted the orderly operations of the institution, i.e., committing batteries, participating in riots and inciting riots.
- Any incarcerated person who successfully participated as a fire crew member in a Conservation Camp Program is eligible to petition the court for expungement.
- “Successful participation” is defined as any formerly incarcerated person who was a fire crew member in a Conservation Camp and was not removed from the program for negative behavior. The amount of time spent at camp is not a deciding factor in successful participation.
- The statute authorizes the defendant to petition the court in the county where the defendant was sentenced.
- Although not required by statute, the following additional information from the petitioner will aid in having CDCR certify the petitioner’s successful participation in fire camp as a hand crew member in a timely manner:
- the petitioner’s CDCR number while participating in fire camp;
- the name of the fire camp;
- the petitioner’s approximate participation dates in fire camp.
- When an AB 2147 petition is filed, the court is required to provide a copy of the petition to the responsible authority to obtain certification of the petitioner’s participation in fire camp. Courts have been provided a list of contacts to facilitate certification by CDCR.
- CDCR is required to certify whether the petitioner successfully participated in the conservation camp and has been released from custody.
- Based on those findings, the court may determine that it is appropriate and in the interests of justice to order that the petitioner’s pleas of guilty or nolo contendere be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty be entered, or the verdicts of guilt be set aside.
Who qualifies under this new law? Any incarcerated person who successfully participated as a firefighter in a Conservation Camp Program. The law is retroactive, so if a qualifying term was served prior to Jan. 1, 2021, that person would still qualify for expungement.
If someone was not assigned as a firefighter but was assigned to a support position at a camp, do they qualify? No. Only people who were actually assigned as firefighters qualify for relief from the court. Someone assigned to a Conservation Camp as a cook, for example, would not qualify.
What does “successful participation” mean? Successful participation is defined as any prior incarcerated person who was a firefighter in a Conservation Camp and was not removed from the program for negative behavior. Time is not a deciding factor in successfully participating.
What if someone was assigned as a firefighter at a Conservation Camp, but was transferred back to an institution based on possession of a controlled substance. Would they still qualify? No. Any negative behavior for which an incarcerated person is found guilty of a Rules Violation Report would disqualify them for relief from the court.
If someone meets the criteria to qualify for expungement from the court, what do they do to obtain relief? They must petition the court. The court will contact the parent institution for the camp the individual stated they were assigned to during their term. The courts have been provided with contact lists containing the address and phone number for the Classification and Parole Representative who can verify whether the petitioner did or did not successfully participate in the Conservation Camp Program as a firefighter.