Convicted felons as EMTs?

California legislation proposes former inmates as emergency medical technicians

By Allison G. S. Knox, faculty member at American Military University

There has been a dramatic national decrease in the recruitment and retention of paid and volunteer EMTs and paramedics. Shortfalls in recruitment have forced numerous agencies to get creative and think of new ways to recruit new members as well as keep current employees and members.

At the same time, the Trump administration has been working on prison reform. People released from prison find it difficult to rebuild their lives. Former inmates often have a hard time obtaining steady employment and earning a livable wage in order to make ends meet.

Former inmates often have a hard time obtaining steady employment and earning a livable wage.
Former inmates often have a hard time obtaining steady employment and earning a livable wage. (Photo/Pixabay)

A new bill in California's legislature would bring together these two issues. AB 2293 Emergency Medical Services: Licensure would permit released felons, who are not convicted rapists or murderers, to train and work as EMTs. Such an initiative would provide them with an avenue for employment.

The bill certainly presents an interesting idea at a time where recruitment is at an all-time low and former prisoners need to rebuild their lives. However, the bill is flawed in that it doesn’t address some of the other problems in EMS.

EMS and the opioid epidemic

Opioid abuse has affected communities throughout the United States. EMS has certainly borne the brunt of this epidemic. EMS agencies are routinely responding to overdose emergencies, making their jobs particularly difficult. EMS providers themselves are not immune to the opioid crisis. In one case, an EMT and her boyfriend broke into an ambulance company to steal medications. Of course, similar instances are rare, but when they have occurred, they have raised serious concerns about keeping certain medications on ambulances.

EMS providers must be trusted professionals

Such issues raise questions about whether or not former inmates are a good fit to work in EMS. Being an EMT is a high-risk profession, and agencies simply can’t take chances on individuals who have served time for felony offenses.

In addition, professionalism is a key component of EMS. These professionals deal with life and death issues on a daily basis. More importantly, patients need to feel safe with their providers in the midst of an emergency call.

Training convicted felons as EMTs might help with recruitment and retention problems, but it seems unwise to put them in trusted roles working closely with the public. If an individual has already committed a crime, they have a statistically higher chance of committing further crimes; that is just too much of a risk for most EMS agencies to take.

Society should find professions that would work well for former felons. Unfortunately, this proposed California legislation that’s aimed at solving the EMS recruitment problem by training former inmates isn’t the way to do it.

About the author
Allison G. S. Knox is a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in emergency and disaster management. Her research interests are comprised of emergency management and emergency medical services policy issues. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level one trauma center emergency department and for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four Master of Arts degrees in emergency management, international relations, national security studies and history. She is a certified lifeguard, MET, and is also trained in technical large animal emergency rescue. Allison currently serves as advocacy coordinator of Virginia for NAEMT, chapter sponsor for the West Virginia Iota Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, and faculty advisor for the Political Science Scholars. She is also on the Board of Trustees and serves as chancellor of the Southeast Region for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in the Social Sciences. She can be reached at For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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