On June 12, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy announced that the county will be making calls free for people who are incarcerated in its jails and eliminating markups on items sold in jail stores. Currently, commissary items, such as basic hygiene products, average a 43% markup in San Francisco jails.
The financial burdens faced by incarcerated people and their loved ones disproportionately affect low-income women of color, something that city officials hope to mitigate with this new policy. The policy is similar to legislation introduced in the California Senate by state Senator Holly Mitchell, which would help to minimize fees and mandate that those imposed be used for rehabilitative services and for the benefit of people who are incarcerated.
Public Defender Manohar Raju applauded the fee-elimination initiative, saying in a statement that “these practices are predatory and disproportionately affect poor people. Reducing the financial burdens of phone fees for incarcerated people will allow them to stay better connected with their loved ones and gives them a better chance going forward after their release.”
The elimination of these fees was made possible Breed’s allocation of $1.7 million from the city’s two-year budget for the Sheriff’s Department to covering the charges for phone calls and the markups on the jail commissary items. These fees and markups, which are sanctioned by state law, are part of a billion-dollar industry that primarily benefits private corporations.