March 29, 2023 

Press Contacts:

Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center,, 510-285-8227

Samantha James, Office of Senator Becker,, ‭626-375-6981‬

SB 474, BASICs Act, Passes Senate Public Safety Committee to Eliminate Canteen Markups in State Prisons

“We need access to these basic supplies to survive incarceration”

Sacramento, CA—On Tuesday, March 28, the Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously passed SB 474, a bill authored by Senator Josh Becker that will eliminate canteen markups across California prisons and provide some financial relief to incarcerated people and their families. More than 600 support letters received from formerly incarcerated people, loved ones, and people incarcerated underscored current canteen prices’ impact on Black and Brown families, and the need to pass the bill.

“The state should not be price gouging incarcerated people to the tune of $31 million a year simply because they cannot comparison shop,” said Senator Becker. “It is time to eliminate markups on essential items like toothpaste, shampoo, snacks, and all other items available in canteen. Markups harm incarcerated people and increase financial insecurity for their families, who are disproportionately low income, people of color.”

This bill, also called the BASICs Act (Basic, Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians), will alleviate the financial burden on Black, Brown, and Indigenous families by ending price gouging of essential food and hygiene supplies for incarcerated people. Each year, incarcerated people and their families spend over $80 million on canteen sales — not including the substantial fees taken out of any funds they receive from loved ones. 

Steven Warren, an organizer who is currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, knows all too well the increased prices of canteen items, having worked in the kitchen store room for just $0.08 an hour.

“A month’s wages is $12.80 for 160 hours of work. If you have restitution, half is taken, leaving $6.40. This falls short of affording my basic necessities. Currently, deodorant at the canteen is $3.60, toothpaste is $3.25, and laundry soap is $2.40,” said Warren, an Inside Fellow with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “We need access to these basic supplies to survive our incarceration. The implementation of this bill would not only relieve our families, but it also gives us incarcerated people a sense of dignity from not being a financial burden to our loved ones.”

“It’s unacceptable that 2 in 3 California families with incarcerated loved ones are unable to meet their family’s basic needs. Prison canteens are a critical resource for incarcerated folks who rely on these purchases for essential food and hygiene supplies,” said Isa Borgeson, Campaign Manager with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Reducing markups on essential goods across California prisons will relieve the economic burden on Black and Brown low-income families across the state. We need to mark down the markups on basic needs for our incarcerated community.” 

The BASICs Act builds off of advocacy from families and community members to get free phone calls for people incarcerated in the San Francisco county jail, and the Keep Families Connected Act (Becker), which went into effect January 1, 2023, to make phone calls free inside all California prisons.

Sandra Johnson, Fair Chance Organizer with Legal Aid at Work, said, “After I was released from prison, I had to not only support myself but also my oldest brother who was serving a 17-to-life sentence. He needed money for personal hygiene items to meet his basic needs like toothpaste and deodorant. Each month, I’d take from the money I had for my monthly bills to keep myself housed, and send him funds so he could purchase overpriced, basic necessities from the prison canteen.”

“Instead of punishing the most vulnerable people in our state with predatory financial practices, we should be investing in community health and economic stability in these communities,” said Su Kim, Policy Manager with UnCommon Law who gave expert testimony at Tuesday’s Senate Public Safety hearing. “Other states, even those that are pushing to lower canteen prices, have mark-up rates far below CDCR’s 65%. For example, the Virginia Department of Corrections currently has a 9% canteen markup, but a recently convened fines & fees working group recommended that the legislature allocate money in the general fund to eliminate this markup. They recognized that even a 9% markup places an unacceptable burden on incarcerated people and their families.”

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.

The bill will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.