In a first major attempt in nearly 50 years, a lawmaker from Los Angeles has introduced a bill that could significantly increase “gate money,” the allowance that incarcerated people receive when released from prison.
After her office received a letter from an incarcerated person who asked, “How do you expect any of us to make it if we’re getting out with just $200?” state Sen. Sydney Kamlager said, “It struck a chord.” In a Feb. 18 report by the Guardian, she pointed to her decision to introduce the bill that could potentially bump up gate money from $200 to $2,600.
“People often enter prison impoverished and are being thrown into poverty upon release,” Kamlager said in the Guardian. The system “perpetuates a fall deeper into desperation for folks who have just been released,” she added.
Amika Mota is the policy director for Sister Warriors Freedom coalition, an activist group working with the senator’s office on the bill. Mota points out that experts say the first 72 hours after an individual has been released are the most critical time for determining whether or not an individual will reoffend.
Furthermore, for female prisoners who are mothers, $2,600 would greatly help to secure housing and make it easier to reunite with their children upon release, said Mota.
The Marshall Project reported California currently offers $200 at most, and even less for those who served shorter sentences. The amount was last increased in 1973 when $200 could cover a month’s rent. Meanwhile, other states such as Texas, Florida and Colorado only provide $100, and Alabama and Louisiana offer $10. Each year, around 600,000 federal and state prisoners are released with barely enough to get a meal, clothing, and a ride home, the Guardian reported.
“In 2022, when the price for a gallon of gas in Los Angeles is almost $5, it is unconscionable that the state of California still gives just $200 in allowance for folks who are getting out of prison,” Kamlager commented.
Another basis for her aggressive push to increase gate funds is that it costs less to send individuals out with $2,600 than the $8,800 per month it would cost the state of California to re-imprison an inmate who had just been released, said Kamlager.
Kamlager consulted with federal data and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator to estimate the average monthly cost of housing and food for a single adult with no children in 2021. She concluded that the proposed increase of allowance to $2,590 would be appropriate, and specifies that starting in 2024, it should be adjusted annually to account for inflation, according to the report.
“I’ve seen guys come out holding that $200 in their hand, and it’s almost like they don’t know what to do with it because they’re scared,” said Rasheed Stanley-Lockheart, a reentry director for the Ahimsa Collective, a restorative justice nonprofit, “We need much more than that to survive.”
After being incarcerated for 24 years, Samual Nathaniel Brown was released last December. Brown is the co-founder of the Anti-Violence Safety and Accountability Project. He recounted his experience of treating his wife, sister and his two daughters to Korean barbecue as a gesture to thank them for their love and support during his incarceration. The bill came to about $140. “And there went my gate money,” he said.
“Not having enough money, it makes people think ‘I need to do something fast.’ And that’s the same type of thinking that led most women and men to prison to begin with,” Brown added.
During the pandemic, a successful pilot program started by the nonprofit Center for Employment Opportunities has been giving $2,750 in cash assistance to those released from prison. Participants claim the $2,750 they received after leaving prison helped immensely in paying for transportation, getting food and reconnecting with families. It also helped prevent homelessness, the report stated.
Kamlager said that re-entering society without adequate assistance after decades behind bars can be tough, especially for those with a criminal record that can often deny them job opportunities and housing. Add to that parole obligations and health needs, and it can pretty quickly turn into a dire situation, she added.
More and broader reforms are required, the senator noted. “This is really about making sure that when people get out, we are not perpetuating a cycle of economic violence.”