Governor Newsom Signs Measure Reducing Markups on Essential Items Across California Prison Canteens

By Cindy Chen

SACRAMENTO, CA – California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week signed SB 474, also known as the BASICs Act, into law, bringing significant relief to incarcerated individuals and their families across California.

The bill, introduced by Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), will reduce the current markup on essential items in prison canteens from 65 percent to 35 percent over the next four years. Incarcerated individuals, their families, and advocates had submitted over 2,500 support letters in favor of the bill.

Supporters said with a minimum wage of only eight cents an hour, it can take an incarcerated person an entire month of work to afford something as fundamental as toothpaste, and that by lowering the cost of basic items, it will reduce food insecurity, support the physical well-being of incarcerated individuals, and reduce the financial burden on their families.

Becker said the legislation is expected to save justice-impacted families more than $16 million annually starting on January 1, 2024, when it takes effect.

Sen. 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.”

The bill has gained mass support from prison-reform advocates.

Carlos Hernandez with Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA) said, “SB 474 is a step in the right direction in ensuring that our loved ones are able to meet their basic needs while incarcerated…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.”

Marlene Sanchez, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, stated, “We applaud Gov. Newsom for prioritizing the needs of incarcerated Californians and their loved ones, and alleviating price gouging in prison canteens across California.”

“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 experienced the impacts of incarceration.

According to supporters of the measure, “a 2020 report from Impact Justice, three-fifths of formerly incarcerated people surveyed could not afford canteen purchases, and 75 percent 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.”

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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