What might seem to only stretch out a couple of dollars for some toiletries for the month, prisoners in California are lucky to barely afford a packet of ramen or a bar of soap.
SB 474 known as the Basic Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians Act that was introduced by Senator Josh Becker (D-Peninsula), alleviates cost pressures for incarcerated people and their families by eliminating price markups on items purchased in California's prison canteen stores.
If this bill is signed by the Governor Newsom, the estimation of savings for incarcerated folks and their families is $30 million per year.
These canteen stores are the way prisoners can purchase necessities that would be otherwise subsided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Items sold at canteens include food and drinks, hygiene products, stationery items and minimum health aide.
According to a 2020 Inmate Welfare Fund audit report, the average markup of CDCR canteen items was 65% above prices paid to vendors.1
In a 2020 report from Impact Justice, three-fifths of formerly incarcerated people surveyed said they had not been able to afford canteen purchases, and 75% reported that access to food was limited by their own and their families' finances.1
California prisoners generally make between 8 cents and 37 cents per hour, according to the California Code of Regulations title 15. 3041.2. With only making $12 to $56 a month which is without the deductions and fees taken out, using money sparingly expands to a financial burden on their families whom many cannot afford sending hundreds of dollars each month.
Basic needs are not being met by prisoners, and the ability to keep up is impossible with vendors not subjected to regulation under state law. According to Becker, California State Prison Solano indicate markup on toothpaste from the market rate of $1.38 to the canteen sales prices of $4.45, 200 percent over the original price that can take up over 35 percent of a prisoner's monthly income.2
SB 474is being co-sponsored by several policy advocacy groups including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Women's Foundation California, Legal Aid at Work, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and San Quentin's Civic Engagement Group.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved SB 474 in May with great expectations becoming into law.
Here are ways on how you can take action and support the bill today:
- Call Senator Anthony Portantino's (Chair of the Appropriations Committee) office at (916) 651-4025 and Senator Brian Jones's (Vice chair of the Appropriations Committee) office at 916-651-4040 and let them know that this bill is crucial for our communities both on the inside and out!
- Submit a letter of support here to your local legislators: https://calegislation.lc.ca.gov/Advocates/
- Sign Women's Foundation of California's form to support the bill: Support SB 474 (Becker)! The BASIC(s) Act: Basic, Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians. (google.com)
- Share this toolkit in support of SB 474 to your social media: https://bit.ly/SB474Toolkit
- Share your story about the true cost of canteen markups. ly/SB474Story