by Jo Ellen Nott
On February 18, 2022, Democratic California state Sen. Sydney Kamlager introduced legislation to increase the amount of money individuals receive when released from state prisons. These funds, commonly called “gate money,” are given to help prisoners transition from life behind bars to the larger and costly world beyond. Kamlager’s legislation, if passed, will bump the $200 that is currently given to $2,590. It will be the first increase in almost 50 years.
Kamlager’s bill, S.B. 1304, would amend § 2713.1 of the California Penal Code to provide a sum sufficient for a month’s needs based on two reliable sources on the cost of living: the MIT Living Wage Calculator and federal government data for average monthly expenses for a single adult with no children in 2021. The bill also calls for the amount to be adjusted annually based on the inflation rate.
The amount of post-release money given to prisoners varies widely across the nation. In several states no money is given at all. According to The Marshall Project, California and Colorado are the most generous, giving gate money of $200 and $100, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, Alabama provides $10. In Louisiana, released prisoners take the balance in their inmate fund account or $10, whichever is greater, plus a bus ticket home—but only if they are indigent—along with their clothing, personal items and a three-day supply of their medications.
A bus ticket is commonly given to most people leaving state custody, sometimes along with donated clothing. Ninety percent of states send released prisoners home with cash, a check or debit card, but that is usually the amount in the prisoner’s fund account used for commissary purchases and communication. Very few states give a flat amount of money to every person released. And in no way do any of these procedures provide sufficient help to survive financially post-release.
Kamlager, who represents Los Angeles’ 30th District, said her legislation makes good financial sense for the state, too. California pays more than $8,800 a month per prisoner in incarceration costs. So if the increased gate money keeps that person from returning to prison in the critical hours and days after release, the state wins. The $2,590 proposed in gate money can make a huge difference in determining whether the recently released prisoner can make it through the first 72 hours, a time frame experts say determines whether a former prisoner’s path will lead away from prison or take an about-face.
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