June 28, 2023 

Press Contacts:
Joshua Stickney, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, 405-315-4151

Charlie Lawlor, Office of Senator Becker, (916) 201-4122

SB 474, BASICs Act, Passes Assembly Public Safety Committee to Reduce Markups in Prison Canteen

Sacramento, CA — On Tuesday, June 27, the Assembly Public Safety Committee unanimously passed SB 474 (8-0), a bill authored by Senator Josh Becker that will reduce canteen markups to 10% across California prisons and alleviate the financial burden for incarcerated people and their families. The bill — called the BASICs Act (Basic, Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians) — will relieve the financial pressure for tens of thousands of families and incarcerated people, who spend over $80 million on canteen sales each year.

“For too long, incarcerated people and their loved ones have suffered under unfair financial burdens from high markups of canteen items in correctional facilities,” said Senator Becker. “Today’s vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on SB 474 brings our state closer to creating financial viability for the loved ones of incarcerated individuals to continue to provide basic necessities and help reduce the risk of recidivism.”

Over 2,000 support letters from currently incarcerated people and their loved ones speak to the impact that canteen prices have on families across the state. For at least the past decade, the California Department for Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has marked up prison canteen items 65% over the price paid to vendors — regardless of inflation — for items like toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, food, and hygiene supplies. This financial pressure falls heavily on Black, Brown, and Indigenous families who support their loved ones while incarcerated. The BASICs Act, if signed by the Governor, would save incarcerated people and their families over $30 million each year.

“SB 474 is a public safety issue. No one should have to worry about where their next meal will come from. No one should have to wonder if they can afford their next shower,” said Phillippe Kelly, an Outside Policy Fellow with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “During my incarceration, I became a ‘bill’ to my family who had to send me money so I could afford food and basic hygiene supplies. No person should be reduced to a burden because of insurmountable canteen prices.”

“I grew up hearing from my mom, ‘Que con la comida no se juega’ — ‘You don’t play with your food.’ At times, it feels like both CDCr and food vendors play with this basic human necessity of food,” said Edgar Ibarra, Communications and Leadership Coordinator with the MILPA Collective. “While incarcerated, I constantly had to be mindful of asking my family to send me money for the canteen as I had restitution and anything they shared with me would be cut in half. I didn’t want my sisters and mom to have to decide between me and [paying] a bill.”

For example, recent canteen prices at California State Prison Solano show toothpaste costs $4.45 in the canteen store, meaning the purchase of one tube of toothpaste can cost up to 37% of an incarcerated person’s monthly income. 

“Women in prison need canteen items in order to survive. I was considered an “indigent” woman inside prison because I had no money,” said Barbara Chavez, a member of All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “Not being able to contribute food when other women cooked inside was hungry and painful. I would just sit there and smell the food being shared. I wanted to belong and be a part of it, but I didn’t have a family to support me with canteen items.”

The BASICs Act builds off of the successful campaigns that made phone calls free and eliminated commissary markups for people in San Francisco county jail, as well as SB 1008 championed by Senator Becker last year that made phone calls in all California prisons free.

“Let’s be honest about what’s going on. Price gouging refers to the practice of charging excessive prices on goods needed by victims of disaster or crisis, and that’s exactly what is happening,” said Su Kim, Policy Manager with UnCommon Law. “CDCr is taking advantage of a disenfranchised population that is experiencing enormous deprivation — a population who have no choice but to shop at prison canteens to meet their basic needs for nutrition, hygiene, and human dignity. It is unacceptable for CDCR to force incarcerated Californians and their loved ones to directly fund operating expenses by paying egregious mark-ups on essential goods.”

SB 474 is co-sponsored by All of Us or None, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Legal Aid at Work, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, MILPA Collective, and the Women’s Foundation California Solís Policy Institute.