August 18, 2023

Press Contacts: 

Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, (510) 285-8227 

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

Theresa Southerland, Communications Director, Office of Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan

(323) 612-5966

Senator Josh Becker and Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan Rally Support for The BASICs Act

The legislators spoke to advocates before they set off to drum up support for the bill among key Assemblymembers.

Sacramento, CA—Senator Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) and Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) met on Tuesday, August 15th with a packed house of advocates pushing for SB 474: The BASICs Act (Basic, Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians) to continue advancing through the Legislature.

The bill limits the markups on items sold in prison canteen stores to no more than 10% above the price paid to the vendor. The current canteen markup hovers around 65% making many essential food and hygiene items completely out of reach, further increasing the economic burden of incarceration on families. Recent price lists have demonstrated that prices increased at least three times this year in some facilities with toothpaste now sold for $6, coffee for $9.05, and toilet paper for $1 per roll. This is a more than 200% increase above what the average consumer would pay for these items.

“It is no secret that our incarcerated Californians are among the state’s most vulnerable populations,” said Senator Becker, “and we all know that the burdens of incarceration are not just on the financial health and the physical wellbeing of the incarcerated, but we know that it is on the families, as well.”

Assembly Majority Leader Bryan is a principal coauthor of SB 474 and spoke to his personal resonance to the bill as a current supporter of incarcerated loved ones stating, “I have family who have been incarcerated. I’ve got J-Pay on my phone right now. You send a hygiene kit or you send some noodles, and then you see your final fines and fees, and you realize that this is the most expensive cup of noodles you’ve ever seen.”

Majority Leader Bryan also spoke to the broader framework of injustice facing incarcerated people and their families, referencing the disadvantages many of them face in their communities back home including high unemployment rates, lack of school and community resources, and food deserts. When taken in context, he states that the high markups are, “taking the bare minimum resources that those families are acquiring for their loved ones and for themselves and siphoning them off into a system that we know is unjust. It’s wrong.”

The pair were joined in their remarks by Sandra Johnson and Jesus Cortez, two formerly incarcerated advocates with direct experience with purchasing the overpriced canteen items and sending money to loved ones after they were released. Sandra Johnson was incarcerated for 15 years in prison and is now a key proponent of this legislation in her capacity as the Fair Chance Organizer at Legal Aid at Work. She spoke to the level of food insecurity she experienced while inside, often going to bed hungry or sharing what little she could buy with those incarcerated with her that had no family support. “Many people who have not been incarcerated assume that California provides sufficient food and hygiene supplies, but in reality… incarcerated people are not receiving enough food or personal hygiene [items] to survive their prison life with dignity,” said Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson is alluding to a common misconception that incarcerated people have unhindered access to food and hygiene products while inside, but in reality Impact Justice reported that 60% of incarcerated people said they cannot afford basic necessities. Further research from the Ella Baker Center found that 2 in 3 families with an incarcerated loved one cannot afford their own basic needs including food and housing while also supporting their loved one inside.

Jesus Cortez was incarcerated for 23 years and is now an advocate with the prison advocacy organization, All of Us or None. “For those of you in here who have done time, you guys know that we look out for each other as best as we possibly can in there,” said Mr. Cortez. “So, the little money that my family was able to help me with those 23 years, I didn’t keep it to myself. I helped the other brothers in there who needed the helping hand.”

Incarcerated people and their families are struggling. After the monumental elimination of phone calls fees with Senator Becker’s SB 1008 last year, canteen purchases are the number one reported financial stressor reported by those impacted by incarceration. Mr. Cortez touched on this topic during his remarks, stating, “…my family was subjected to the prices, the high prices that CDCR has basically forced upon them, and their only crime being that they love me and they believe, you know, that I was redeemable.”

The support for the BASICs Act is strong, with over 2,500 letters submitted in support of the bill, and 1,500 coming directly from incarcerated people. “This is way more than any bill I’ve ever done,” said Becker.

Senator Becker summed up the bill perfectly, “Everyone deserves access to basic necessities. Everyone deserves affordable supplies. Everyone deserves to know that their loved one has everything they need to care for themselves.”

SB 474 has received bipartisan support and is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on the suspense file.


Senator Becker represents the 13th Senate District covering portions of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and includes the cities of Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Mountain View, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco, and Woodside.

Assembly Majority Leader Bryan represents the 55th Assembly District covering Culver City, West Los Angeles and much of South Los Angeles.