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Monday, October 19, 2009

Update: How Much Does Prison Coffee Have To Cost Before Inmate Files Federal Suit? Less Than You'd Think.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge The crux of a Constitutional lawsuit...
  • The crux of a Constitutional lawsuit...
Last week we reported on a lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court by an octet of inmates charging they were being price-gouged at Pelican Bay prison in the far north of California. We noted that the e-filing of the case, sadly, didn't include the actual prices of the allegedly exorbitantly priced coffee and other goods, and we wondered what it would take to get prisoners to claim jailhouse java prices are criminal.

The answer: $1.10.

The sudden jacking of the price of eight ounces of Folgers coffee from $6.40 to $7.50 inspired inmate James Godoy to file a multitude of internal complaints -- all were denied -- before gathering together a posse of disgruntled prisoners and hiring Sacramento lawyer Herman Franck. Incidentally, an eight-ounce jar of Folgers will run you $7.49 in a San Francisco Safeway (unless you have your Safeway card; then it's $5.99).

What may be more critical to Franck and Godoy's argument, however, isn't the amount of money but where prisoners' coffee cash is going.

Within the 60-odd pages of legal correspondences generated by Godoy's prison petitions, a jailhouse official acknowledges that the augmented commisary prices for coffee and other goods are going toward the Inmate Welfare Fund. The suit notes that the state's prison system recently lost the cas of Ashker v. CDC, which established that prisons can no longer glean interest from inmate trust accounts to fund the Inmate Welfare Fund (which keeps up libraries, gyms, etc.). Godoy and his colleagues allege Pelican Bay is making up for that dried-up revenue source by unfair price-gouging.  

"Such conduct constitutes a violation of the takings clause of the 5th

Amendment to the United States Constitution, and a violation of the

Federal Civil Rights act, in that it constitutes a taking of private

funds [inmate private monies] for public use [to fund the Inmate

Welfare Fund] without providing compensation therefore," reads the

suit. In other words, this case is more about the Constitution than coffee.

"The case, you can imagine, will be hotly challenged by the defendants," said Franck. "It will test an area under the 5th Amendment takings clause."

You can read the whole suit right here:


Franck describes his client, Godoy, as "a jailhouse lawyer." In a separate case that doesn't test any Constitutional amendments we know of, Franck is also representing Godoy in a lawsuit against guards at Pelican Bay the inmate accuses of shooting his eye out with a pellet gun.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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