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Why SB 474 is Important for Incarcerated Individuals in CA

Posted by Sara Cooper | Oct 11, 2023 | 0 Comments

Prisoners in California typically have to pay for their own toiletries while incarcerated, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars profited by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

It's one thing to be paying out of pocket without making much money in prison, just to be hygienic. It's another to have money swiped out of your bank account after the end of your sentencing and being out of jail, impacting ex-prisoners such as Laura Hernandez.

According to the Modesto Bee, she lives in the state of Texas as a free woman yet is impacted by CDCR's price-gouging for those that cannot afford basic necessities on the inside.

Funds run out quicker than what most civilians think, and it's more than just a bar of soap those whom are incarcerated need, just like those who are on the outside. This is out of the goodness of her heart, because she knew the deep struggles of supplying her own products that were a way to humanize her in that traumatic experience.

Currently, Governor Newsom has the power to pass Senate Bill 474, introduced by Senator Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park). If passed into law, this can assist incarcerated women in California, up to 92,000 people in CDCR facilities, prevented from paying more than 35 percent markup above the amount that is given to venders up until 2028; this would lower prices significantly.

An audit was conducted on these products, and it was discovered that there is a 65 percent markup on items from vendors, on average. This of course for the purpose to maximize profit for prisons.  The median hourly wage for prisoners that work ranges from 8 to 37 cents an hour, hardly making a few dollars a day at most.

According to the Modesto Bee, “At California State Prison Solano, toothpaste costs $4.45 (compared to the market rate of $1.38), a markup of over 200% that could require 37% of an incarcerated person's monthly income.” These basic necessities are charged so highly for the lowest paid workers in the nation, even though this has been legal for decades. Every penny counts for prisoners, and they are not guaranteed the same hours for work on some weeks.

Loved ones can send money to those on the inside, but unfortunately, much of it goes towards restitution fees. That's even if a person has those on the outside that would even support them financially, which many incarcerated individuals do not.

This is why restricting canteen price-gouging is so crucial for prisoners, it would extend to help their families that send money in just to survive on the bare minimum.

Supporters for SB 474 such as the Ella Baker Center created a 2015 report on price-gouging, including a statement that said, “Decades of unjust criminal justice policies have created a legacy of collateral impacts that last for generations and are felt most deeply by women, low-income families and communities of color,” as one of the cosponsors of the bill.

The Essie Justice Group also conducted a 2018 survey of 2,281 women that were experience housing instability such as being unhoused or eviction, with 35 percent saying yes to having these experiences due to a loved one becoming incarcerated. Other than San Francisco in California, no other state has passed a law to take away these high markups on canteen products.

According to the Modesto Bee, “In addition to Newsom signing SB 474, future legislation could address the prices of items in the catalogs from which incarcerated people and their loved ones can order quarterly packages.”  

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