SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Many incarcerated Californians face a tough financial decision: Should they buy food or medicine?
What You Need to Know
- The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) marks up items in prison cafeterias at 65% of their wholesale value.
- Senate Bill 474, led by Sen. Josh Becker, will set price markups at 35% of wholesale value for the next four years
- According to a report by Impact Justice, 60% of formerly incarcerated people surveyed said they could not afford the items sold in canteens.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom has until October 14 to sign or veto SB 474
The role played by inmates who must make this difficult decision is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) which currently marks up items in prison canteens at 65% of their wholesale value.
However, that could change soon, as a bill sitting on Gov. Gavin Newsom hits the heavy marks. Senate Bill 474, led by Sen. Josh Becker, will set price markups at 35% of wholesale value for the next four years.
Alesha Monteiro’s husband is currently in prison and just got a job that pays $1 an hour. It takes him many days of work to buy things that are available in the canteens.
“I have four children. I have a husband in prison and he doesn’t ask me for things, but you want to make sure your man is taken care of. The punishment is that he is in prison. Not to starve him,” said Monteiro.
But Monteiro’s husband is bigger than other inmates, because the minimum wage in California prisons is 8 cents an hour.
Revenue generated from prison canteens goes to the Prisoner Welfare Fund, which is used to support rehabilitation programs, education and recreational activities for incarcerated individuals.
According to a report by Impact Justice, 60% of formerly incarcerated people surveyed said they could not afford the items sold in canteens. Many say they have to choose between buying food or essential health products.
“I saw a bottle of soap that was like $9 and it hit me that I usually just get it and don’t think about it and I stopped and went to Wal-Mart and Target and looked and the soap was like three dollars so we’re just getting hit everywhere,” shared Monteiro.
Isa Borgesen with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said they originally pushed to eliminate price markups through SB 474, but accepted changes to lower the markups to 35%.
“We didn’t get there. We made compromises and tried to create the best opportunity to sign knowing that California is in a difficult fiscal year and that we are facing a budget shortfall,” Borgesen said.
It helps families like Monteiro’s that Borgesen said the bill the governor signs is important.
“If we reduce markups on these essential items, we will ease the economic burden on many low-income Black and Brown families across the state who are trying to support their loved ones inside, ” said Borgesen.
Newsom has until October 14 to sign or veto SB 474.