California Assembly Approves Eliminating Co-Pays in Prisons and Jails

For Immediate Release
May 23rd, 2019
Press Contact:
Terence Long: 510-936-0344

Sacramento, CA – Today, California’s Assembly passed Assembly Bill 45, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) with a vote of 44 to 19. AB 45 eliminates medical and dental copayments and charges for health care appliances in prisons and jails.

“People in here refuse medical service because of copays,” said Juan Moreno Haines, an incarcerated journalist and winner of the Silver Heart Award from the Society of Professional Journalists who has been incarcerated for 23 years and currently resides at San Quentin State Prison. “Making a choice between buying deodorant and going to the doctor, that’s not a choice anyone should have to make, particularly people who are as predictably poor as the people in here.”

While earning no wages, people incarcerated in most county jails must pay a copay, along with fees, to initiate a medical or dental visit and to receive medical appliances like dentures. Requiring a copay in order to receive care puts incarcerated people’s health at risk. Some people delay seeking treatment or don’t seek treatment at all. This can lead to permanent health consequences and require more aggressive and expensive treatment down the road.

When people can’t afford to pay upfront but need care, county jails place a financial hold on their commissary account, which prevents people from purchasing basic necessities, including over-the-counter medication and necessary hygiene products, as well as phone cards, stamps, and paper to maintain contact with family and other support systems.

Due to the overrepresentation of Black and brown people in California’s criminal justice system, a lack of access to needed health care exacerbates existing health disparities in these communities.

Since Assemblymember Stone’s introduction of the bill, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stopped charging copays for medical and dental visits, and has cleared the medical debt people accrued by while housed in their facilities. CDCR now joins 8 counties– Contra Costa, Inyo, Modoc, Napa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Tulare– and 8 states in removing this barrier to healthcare access.

While the CDCR has changed its policy, AB 45 offers a permanent solution to ensure the CDCR does not reverse this policy at a later time, and so that people in jails will gain equal access to healthcare.


The ACLU of California is an enduring guardian of justice, fairness, equality, and freedom, working to protect and advance civil liberties for all Californians.

California Coalition for Women Prisoners is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC).

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights works to advance racial and economic justice to ensure dignity and opportunity for low income people and people of color.

Initiate Justice builds the power of people directly impacted by mass incarceration to be leaders in the movement to end it. Initiate Justice organizes both inside and outside of prisons, mobilizing incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their loved ones in California.

Union of American Physicians and Dentists are a union of physicians, dentists, and health practitioners/professionals working together to ensure that our members have an effective voice in decisions that affect their well-being and their ability to provide quality healthcare.