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Monday, October 12, 2009

Further Proof That Incarceration Is No Fun: Inmates File Federal Suit Over Alleged Price Gouging In Prison Cantina

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 8:30 AM

But no one loves pricey coffee
  • But no one loves pricey coffee
As hard-liners say, "you do the crime, you do the time." But if you feel you're getting ripped off by paying too much for prison coffee -- to quote Doug Llewelyn, "You take 'em to court."

Eight inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City in the far north of California last week filed a federal class action suit in San Francisco court alleging price gouging in the jailhouse canteen. The defendants include the current warden, the former warden, the prison's chief of inmate appeals, and the secretary of California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations.

The complaint: Outrageous prices at the canteen aren't due to increased suppliers' costs but are instead diverting prisoners' money into the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is used to administer to exercise equipment, the library, and other amenities. 

Lead plaintiff, inmate James Godoy, claims he exhausted the internal grievance procedure before taking the unusual step of, literally, making a federal case of this. The suit claims to represent as many as 170,000 current and former inmates who may have shelled out too much for java and other goods.

Here's the nitty gritty: Godoy claims that so-called price-gouging at the canteen was used to pad the depleted Inmate Welfare Fund, which was in bad shape because of a recent ruling -- in San Francisco District Court, incidentally -- in the case of Ashker v. CDC. In that case, the judge curtailed the former practice of shunting interest from inmate trust accounts into the Inmate Welfare Fund. Godoy et al. claim that at Pelican Bay, the difference has been made up by charging ludicrous prices for a cup of Joe.

"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


Of course, the $64,000 question (at least) is, how much

was the damn coffee? Sadly, the canteen's menu is not included in the

e-filing of the suit available online. Our calls to the inmates'

lawyers, Herman Franck and Elizabeth Vogel of Sacramento, have not yet

been returned.

But it must have been a hell of a markup. It

ought to take quite the gouge to get prisoners to claim jailhouse

coffee prices are criminal.

H/T   |   Courthouse News

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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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