October 10, 2023


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

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

Governor Newsom Signs SB 474 (BASICs Act), Reducing Markups on Essential Items Across California Prison Canteens

SACRAMENTO — Today, people incarcerated across California prisons, their families, and advocates are celebrating SB 474 by Senator Josh Becker being signed into law by Governor Newsom. Also known as the Basic, Affordable Supplies for Incarcerated Californians (BASICs) Act, this important bill will reduce the markup on items sold in California prison canteens from its current rate of 65% to 35% for the next four years. The bill received massive support with over 2,500 support letters from inside and beyond prison walls, without whom this victory would not be possible. 

Advocates and incarcerated Californians thank Governor Newsom for signing this critical piece of legislation that will provide much-needed financial relief to those incarcerated who rely on essential supplies purchased at prison canteens. This bill will also provide relief to family members who support their incarcerated loved ones, primarily Black and Brown low-income women across the state. SB 474 is estimated to save justice-impacted families upwards of $16 million annually beginning January 1, 2024, when the bill goes into effect. 

Senator Becker said, “SB 474 will monumentally change the lives of so many Californians impacted by incarceration. By lowering the cost of essential items the state will decrease food insecurity, support the physical health of incarcerated people, and limit the financial burden of incarceration on families.” 

“I am very excited and thankful that Gov. Newsom signed SB 474 into law. This is a huge win, not only for our Californians that are incarcerated but for their families who will be able to put that money into savings for their personal needs and goals,” said Carlos Hernandez with MILPA. “SB 474 is a step in the right direction in ensuring that our loved ones are able to meet their basic needs while incarcerated. Also, I believe it is equally important that our government has demonstrated to historically disenfranchised communities that they are willing and capable of uplifting their values and finding ALL Californians worthy of human dignity.”

“We applaud Governor Newsom for prioritizing the needs of incarcerated Californians and their loved ones, and alleviating price gouging in prison canteens across California,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “SB 474 will provide the financial relief that many directly impacted families need as they support their loved ones inside, and will afford incarcerated Californians the ability to purchase the basic essentials that they desperately need. When we prioritize the well-being of people who are incarcerated and their loved ones, we support families and safer communities.”

SB 474 will ensure that incarcerated Californians have greater access to the food and hygiene products they need to meet their basic health needs. Prison canteens are not a luxury, they’re a critical resource for incarcerated Californians who rely on these purchases of food and hygiene supplies to survive their incarceration. With a minimum wage of only $0.08 an hour before fees and deductions, it can take an incarcerated person an entire month of work to afford a single essential item such as toothpaste.

“Today, thousands of incarcerated Californians move a little closer to affording their basic needs. It’s the difference between having enough to eat and sufficient hygiene products to last you for the month. Today, family members prevail over CDCR’s profits. We thank Governor Newsom for his empathetic leadership in providing a measure of relief and for acknowledging the financial hardships associated with incarceration,” said Macio Lindsey, 2023 Inside Policy Fellow with the Ella Baker Center.

We’ve heard over and over the immense burden and sacrifice loved ones of incarcerated people take on in order to cover high prison canteen costs. This includes countless stories of mothers and wives going into debt, choosing between paying bills or sending money to their loved ones inside to afford items from the prison canteen and feeling crushed by the weight of these pressures. Nearly 2 in 3 families with an incarcerated family member were unable to meet their family’s basic needs—including food and housing—due to the financial burdens of incarceration. 

“With Governor Newsom’s signing of the BASICs Act by Senator Becker, we can now with comfort provide support for incarcerated loved ones through reduced costs of canteen items,” said Ivana Cortez, Family Unity Coordinator with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC).

Sandra Johnson, Fair Chance Organizer with Legal Aid at Work, said, “Thank you Governor Newsom for signing SB 474! This bill will end price gouging on canteen items in California state prisons and can prevent families from struggling to support their loved ones inside.” Sandra has herself experienced the impacts of incarceration herself.

In a 2020 report from Impact Justice, three-fifths of formerly incarcerated people surveyed could not afford canteen purchases, and 75% reported that access to food was limited by their own or their family’s finances. Many people reported having to choose between buying food or going hungry to purchase necessities such as toothpaste, tampons, and ibuprofen.

Governor Newsom’s compassionate decision to sign SB 474 shows California’s commitment to investing in financial stability for justice-involved families as a critical and evidence-based strategy for promoting public safety for all Californians.