Measure permanently bans City from profiting off of incarcerated people and their families from jail phone calls, commissary items & other services
“As a formerly incarcerated woman, I often had to make the choice of whether I could afford a phone call home that month or whether I wouldn’t call and make sure that my family had enough to pay the bills while taking care of my children. This is a huge win for SF.” – Amika Mota, Policy Director, Young Women’s Freedom Center
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the People Over Profits Ordinance, first introduced by San Francisco Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Shamann Walton. This first-in-the-nation ordinance builds on the initial steps taken by Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Sheriff to make jail phone calls free and end commissary markups. This ordinance makes these reforms permanent and ensures San Francisco cannot generate revenue in this way on other products and services for incarcerated people and their families.
“What hurt me most was the burden that fell on my family. I’m the bread giver for my family but my pride made it difficult to call home simply because I knew they would have to pay for the call.” – Paul Briley, Policy Fellow with Legal Services for Prisoners & All of Us or None
Charging exorbitant fees for jail phone calls and commissary goods is common across the country. But jail programs—like education and reentry services—should not depend on fining incarcerated people above and beyond their sentences, or on gouging their families.
Prior to these reforms, if a person incarcerated in San Francisco jails made two 15-minute phone calls a day, it would typically cost $300 over 70 days (the average jail stay) or $1,500 over a year. And commissary items—such as shampoo, ramen, and deodorant—were marked up an average of 43 percent.
“We are never again going to take a commission or make money off of products and services provided to incarcerated people and their support networks, their families,” Financial Justice Project Director Anne Stuhldreher told KQED News.
“This is a racial and economic justice issue. This legislation ensures we never go back to high prices to generate revenue,” said San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. “SF should not be the exception, and this legislation will help pave the way for others across the country to do the same.”
“Equity across the board is a great accomplishment. We look forward to making sure we operate without placing a burden on the backs of incarcerated people and their loved ones,” said Sheriff Paul Miyamoto.
“When we drain the bank accounts of incarcerated people’s families, we’re punishing people who are only trying to support their loved ones. That should be celebrated, not penalized,” said Treasurer José Cisneros.
“The impacts on our clients ripple out to their loved ones, mothers, children, and extended families,” said Public Defender Mano Raju. “Today is a real step. We hope this model of people over profits continues to be replicated throughout the state and nation.”
San Francisco’s local reforms are gaining momentum. California State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), put forward Senate Bill 555 to permanently lower jail phone rates and markups in jail commissaries throughout the state.
The San Francisco Jail Justice Coalition propelled these reforms. Thanks to Young Women’s Freedom Center, Young Community Developers, All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Community Housing Partnership, Berkeley Underground Scholars, and Taxpayers for Public Safety.
Many public officials came together to make this happen. Thanks to Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, Supervisor Shamann Walton, Mayor London Breed, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, and Public Defender Mano Raju.