LOS ANGELES – Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Chair Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor to the First District, on removing financial burdens for families, specifically on providing free phone calls and eliminating profits and mark-ups on commissary items in County jails and juvenile camps and halls.
“While we are recovering from the pandemic, Los Angeles County is also reviewing its status quo infrastructure and systems, in our embrace of a “care first” approach, to better serve our hardest hit communities, that are disproportionately communities of color,” shared Chair Solis. “With over 80% of people incarcerated in the County jails and over 90% of youth incarcerated in the County camps and halls being Black and Latinx, the fiscal burden is tremendous on these families that have had to spend an exorbitant amount on phone calls and providing financial assistance to their loved ones to buy heavily marked up commissary items to supplement meals or hygiene product. In Los Angeles County alone, more than one million phone calls were made, totaling over 20 million more minutes, that accounted for $20 million dollars—which is $4 to $5 million more when compared to years prior. Though the contract with the phone services vendor generates an annual revenue amount of $15 million towards the ‘Inmate Welfare Fund’, based on the recent April 2021 audits, the Auditor-Controller raises concerns on how the funds are being used and the need for key indicators to properly evaluate and assess the programs they are supposed to provide people who are incarcerated in the jails. It is apparent that these funds, that have been gleaned off of families, need to be examined further to ensure it is being used appropriately. This motion is a first step in how the County can explore options to provide no cost phone calls and end commissary mark ups to relieve families at a time when financial assets are strained; in addition to strengthening oversight of how the profits and revenues have been used.”
In 2020, people in custody at the LA County jails, ranging from 17,000, prior to COVID-19, and at its low, at 12,000, made a million more phone calls and the number of call minutes increased by 20 million compared to the last three years. Of the nine facilities in the system, including the Inmate Reception Center and the Jail Ward at the LAC + USC Medical Center, most of these calls were made from people in custody incarcerated at the Men’s Central Jail and the Pitchess Detention Center – North County Correctional Facility.
“The economic burden of phone calls and commissary markups primarily falls on Black and Brown families that are already struggling to make ends meet,” shares Jared O’Brien of the Youth Justice Coalition. “Currently, it costs about $25 an hour for a call from County Jail when the minimum wage in Los Angeles is not even $25 an hour. Phone calls in County jails, juvenile camps and halls are so expensive that families are spending hundreds of dollars a month to connect with their loved ones. Phone calls are one of the few humanizing lifelines for incarcerated people: when people are locked away from society, maintaining access to their loved ones is critical, and losing access to them is isolating and detrimental to the well-being of both the incarcerated person and their loved ones.”
The passage of this motion directs the County’s Chief Executive Office, in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department, the Office of Inspector General, and other relevant departments, to submit a report back in writing in 90 days on removing the financial burdens.
To view the full motion, click here.
Kimberly Ortega, Acting Communications Director, (213) 361-6435 or KOrtega@bos.lacounty.gov
Stephany Villaseñor, Communications Deputy, (213) 308-9017 or SVillasenor@bos.lacounty.gov