Open Letter to Governor Newsom in Support of SB 555
September 2, 2020
The Honorable Gavin Newsom
Governor of the State of California
State Capitol, 1st Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: Request Signature on SB 555 (Mitchell): Jail FACTS Act
Dear Governor Newsom,
As a 5th generation Californians, I thank you for your leadership and all you are doing for our state. On behalf of my firm Nia Impact Capital, I request your signature on SB 555 - the Jail Fair Access for Connections to Support (FACTS) Act. Having worked in Alameda County Jails years ago, I understand the issues at stake here for our most vulnerable families. The Jail FACTS Act will reduce the heavy financial burden placed on the families and on support systems of incarcerated individuals. SB 555 aims to reduce the exorbitant costs of communications (including phone calls and video calls), regulate the prices for goods sold inside county jails (hygiene products and food), and require that profits made from these services are reinvested to support people incarcerated in California County Jails and juvenile halls, as well as their transition back into their communities.
At Nia, we are impact investors, aligning assets with values of environmental sustainability and social justice. We seek to bring justice to capital markets and to corporate America. We need policy makers to also seek justice, and to end extractive practices, particularly for our most vulnerable populations.
California county jails have been shown to charge up to $17 for a 15-minute phone call, which is nearly 3 times as high as the cost in California state prisons. Furthermore, markups on commissary items make it difficult, if not impossible, for incarcerated people to afford basic necessities. The high cost of utilizing these services disrupts not only the economic stability of incarcerated people, but also their families and support systems on the outside. SB 555 caps the cost of jail calls at 5 cents per-minute, and video communications at 25 cents per-minute, and caps markups on jail commissary items to no more than 10% over the vendor cost. This will make communication, food and basic hygiene items more affordable for people incarcerated in California county jails and juvenile facilities.
These costs have devastating impacts on families and communities, specifically those financially supporting incarcerated loved ones. Research shows that 1 in 3 families with incarcerated loved ones go into debt due to the costs of phone calls and visits alone. The cost of keeping in touch with incarcerated people falls most heavily on their families, and disproportionately on low-income women of color. Because of these costs, incarcerated people often lose connection with support systems on the outside. This can have serious mental health implications and makes the process of preparing for reentry even more difficult.
Current state law mandates that profit generated from commissary and phone calls be placed into the Inmate Welfare Fund (IWF), and states that the IWF must be used “primarily” for the wellbeing of incarcerated people. SB 555 mandates that the fund be used “solely” for the education and welfare of inmates, ending raids on the fund.
This issue is gaining national momentum: Texas prisons have cut phone call costs from 26 cents per minute to 6 cents per minute; New York City and San Francisco have eliminated the cost of jail calls altogether; California has reduced the cost of calls in state prisons. There is also a legislative effort underway at the federal level to increase the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to regulate the cost of calls from jails and prisons. But still, our jails fall behind. It is time for California to adopt the solution provided by SB 555.
By passing SB 555, California can become a champion and leader in promoting economic stability within communities most impacted by the criminal justice system. We respectfully request that you sign SB 555 into law.
Kristin Hull, PhD
Nia Impact Capital
Cc: Emily Harris, Ella Baker Center (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Governor Newsom’s Office (email@example.com)