Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, Treasurer José Cisneros' Financial Justice Project, and the SF Jail Justice Coalition launch $10 a month Commissary Allowance Pilot Program

Funded through monies raised by the Financial Justice Project, this first-of-its-kind pilot program will help incarcerated people maintain their dignity and access to essential hygiene items and food 

 Posted May 17, 2021

San Francisco, CA -- Beginning this month, people incarcerated in San Francisco County Jails who have little or no support from the outside will receive a $10 monthly allowance to purchase essential hygiene items and food from the jail store, or commissary. The Commissary Allowance Pilot Program helps ensure incarcerated people maintain their dignity and ability to purchase essential items, like shampoo, deodorant, and snacks.

"This is an investment in a safer community,” said Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. “When we give justice-involved people the resources and a sense of agency over their lives, we help them get through their time in jail and provide support to successfully and safely re-enter society. I am grateful to my staff, Treasurer Cisneros’ Financial Justice Project and to the community advocates who worked together to advance the Commissary Allowance Pilot Program.”

While everyone in jail has access to basic hygiene supplies, family members and loved ones typically put money on incarcerated people’s accounts so they can supplement these supplies and buy additional food items. Approximately one-third of people incarcerated in San Francisco jails lack outside support and are unable to purchase items from the jail store. Although modest, the new monthly $10 allowance seeks to help people with little or no outside support.

Justice-involved people in custody are eligible for the pilot program if they are housed in San Francisco County Jails for 30 days or more and have had an average commissary balance of less than $10. During May 2021, 106 people qualified for and received the monthly $10 allowance.

The commissary allowance affords essential hygiene items like shampoo (4 oz, $0.98), soap (3 oz, $0.52), toothpaste (4 oz, $1.04), and snacks, including ramen ($0.50), chips ($0.45), and rice ($0.95). The program will be piloted for one year and is believed to be one of the first programs of its kind in the country.  

As a City we should invest in the most marginalized populations in our community, not profit off of them,” said Treasurer José Cisneros. “During the pandemic it’s more important than ever that incarcerated people should be able to maintain hygiene and get supplemental nutrition. The Commissary Allowance Pilot Program reflects our values as San Franciscans. I am proud that our Financial Justice Project worked with the Sheriff and community advocates to bring these reforms to fruition.” 

“During my incarceration, the burden of paying for commissary items fell on my family. That hurt the most. I’m the bread giver for my family but my pride made it difficult for me to ask for my family to put money on my account. Having $10 a month would have helped alleviate that burden on me and my family,” said Paul Briley, Regional Chapter Coordinator with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None, members of the SF Jail Justice Coalition.

"Many women struggle to access essential resources while on the inside. As a formerly incarcerated mother, I often had to choose between buying hygienic products and ensuring my family had enough money to take care of my children. It's important for the Commissary Allowance Pilot Program to become permanent so that fewer mothers have to make that choice," said Amika Mota, Policy director at Young Women's Freedom Center, a member of the SF Jail Justice Coalition.

The Commissary Allowance Pilot Program builds on previous first-in-the-nation reforms. In 2020, San Francisco became the first county to make jail phone calls free and end markups on commissary items, to lift a financial burden off of incarcerated people and their families. Previously, items in the San Francisco County Jail’s commissary store were marked up an average of 43%. San Francisco is also the first to pass a  People Over Profits ordinance, which ensures that San Francisco will never again generate revenue for the government from incarcerated people and their families.

In partnership with the SF Jail Justice Coalition and The Financial Justice Project, the Sheriff’s Office distributed surveys to incarcerated people with little or no outside support to hear their thoughts and suggestions about the program. The majority of people surveyed were unable to purchase the commissary items they need because they lacked the money, did not have people in their support networks who could afford to put money on their books, and/or were experiencing homelessness. Overwhelmingly, people surveyed indicated this allowance would positively impact their time in jail and help them feel a sense of relief to purchase the items they need. The most common items people wanted to purchase were deodorant, shampoo, soap, soup and ramen.  

The Commissary Allowance Pilot Program comes at no cost to the City and  is funded using philanthropic money raised by The Financial Justice Project.

Organizations in the SF Jail Justice Coalition include: All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Young Community Developers, GLIDE, Taxpayers for Public Safety, SF Pretrial, Community Housing Partnership and the San Francisco Public Defenders Office.