Punitiveness or “Self Sufficiency” in Canadian Prisons

In April, 2013 the myriad of structural changes within the Canadian penal system that the conservatives have developed in line with their neo-liberal, tough on crime agenda will take effect. This post explores the financial and economic aspects of the changes as they will occur within an already flawed system of supposed ‘self-sufficiency’.

Inside Canadian prisons, there has long existed a system in which imprisoned people must work to pay their own room and board. They must pay for all communications costs, as well as purchasing hygiene products, food items, clothing, school supplies and any hobby items one may be permitted to have.

There is an internal welfare system, which imprisoned people’s labour funds, to provide for those who cannot work.

There is an eternal “inmate committee” system, which imprisoned people’s labour funds, that controls purchasing of large and small appliances for the prisons, among other costs.

On site within each prison exists a small factory operated by the for profit crown corporation CORCAN, which uses prison labour to make all the linens, towels and other products issued to imprisoned people by CSC.

What food and other products that people in prison can purchase are sold at market value or are marked up.

The system was modeled not only towards self-sufficiency, but to also encourage work and budgeting skills that people can utilize upon release to avoid recidivism.

But there exists a detrimental flaw within the system.

Imprisoned people work for only dollars a day. Imprisoned people in Canada are forced to sustain themselves on unsustainable income.

Below explains the current pay level system, which has not increased since the 1980’s. Note that raises can only be pursued every 90 days and that one can only raise a level one level at a time. Note that there are not as many jobs as imprisoned people and that many must take welfare until a spot opens.

Pay level F- $1.00 per full day – welfare pay. For those who cannot work but actively try to.

E – $2.50 per full day – default entry level pay

D – $5.25 per full day – 1st possible raise level

C – $5.80 per full day – 2nd possible raise level

B – $6.35 per full day – 3rd possible raise level

A – $6.90 per full day – highest possible pay

For those who work at CORCAN an additional $1.50 per day incentive pay exists – until April, 2013 that is. Not only does CORCAN produce most product issued by CSC, it produces several products, which it sells to various corporations. In women’s prisons many linens used at popular hotels are produced, while in men’s prisons couches, tables and other large furniture are produced.

But beginning the next fiscal year, April 2013, CSC is simultaneously reducing prisoner pay levels by 30%. the difference will apparently contribute to ‘room and board’ costs. New pay levels will be issued as such;

Pay level F – $0.70 per full day

E – $ 1.75 per full day

D – $3.67 per full day

C – $ 4.06 per full day

B – $4.44 per full day

A – $4.83 per full day

In addition to the 30% decrease, GVI has announced it will deduct a additional 10% to fund “inmate committee” creating pay rates as follows:

Pay level F – $0.60 per full day

E – $1.50 per full day

D – $3.15 per full day

C – $3.48 per full day

B – $3.81per full day

A – $4.14 per full day

In addition to the decrease, totaling 40%, mandatory deductions reduce possible earnings even further. A mandatory cable charge is already deducted from every imprisoned persons bi-weekly pay period; the charge is $7.00. Every federally imprisoned person pays his charge, regardless of whether they have access to a television or not. Many imprisoned people are paying the charge without accessing television. Further, many among those who do have televisions would gladly forfeit their access to have the extra $14 -$21 monthly to eat and communicate with family, had they the option. Make no mistake, though public outcry often sparks over the fact that imprisoned people can watch tv – at night times and on weekends – CSC wants nothing more than for every prisoner to have television. It is the greatest pacifier.

In addition to the cable charge, come April, 2013, a new mandatory deduction has been announced to us: an ‘administrative phone charge for upkeep and maintenance of the telephone’. The Charged has been announced as having a presently undetermined rate, however it was been announced as having a presently between $5-$10 bi-weekly was being negotiated. The charge does not provide phone access; to use the I Bell payphone per “living unit” we must pay in advance to purchase phone minutes. Though we do not have a written statement of rates, local calls cost $1.00, calls in Ontario cost $0.11 per minute, and long distance and international rates seen to vary, but are drastically more expensive. Because Canada imprisons such a high number of non-Canadians, many people’s entire families are overseas, leaving them virtually inaccessible. But most Canadians in prison cannot afford the system either. And if a person does not have funds to put onto their phone cards on the approved upload dates (which occur once monthly), that person has no phone access to call families and communities, unless collect calls are accepted.

Most women I am imprisoned with are mothers, and at the current pay rates I watch daily as women choose between food and calling their children. What small amounts of money that women can afford to upload goes quickly, and certainly the new “administrative charge” in conjunction with the 40% pay decrease will swallow any available income.

Imprisoned people should not be forcefully positioned to lose their families because they cannot afford to access them! This forms a cycle which will perpetuate generations of broken families, dually perpetuating prison populations.

And when envisioning a person in prison working for such rates, know that the labour being done equals workloads to any standard job. In addition to the factory work done at CORCAN, imprisoned people work to maintain the prison. There are garbage people, landscapers, janitors, librarians, office assistants, maintenance workers, painters… the list goes on.

Imprisoned people work hard for our already low rates. We already choose between being full and telling our loved ones that we love them. We are punished from when we wake to when we sleep. Punished by guards treatment, punished by cages – being taken from everything we have and know and love and every opportunity to find success and happiness is an immense punishment in and of its self.

It is needless and harmful to work us for dollars a day in a forced system of supposed ‘self sufficiency’, leaving us no option to maintain our families, leaving us no option to eat enough food in a day.

This system punishes not just people in prison, but their families too. For the only people who maintain regular contact with home are those whose families are able to financially support them.

I am an adult who, by my imprisonment, am forced to be dependent on my family who struggles with all of the high high costs of imprisonment. Worse still, because most people in prisons come from poor and marginalized communities, I am among the margins inside. I contribute to a great class disparity that prevails within Canadian federal prisons because of their persistently insufficient pay rates, and system of ‘self sufficiently’ I am among the few who can, generally, call home daily. I can purchase nuts and vegetable juice and vitamins and nourish my body. And because of the strict ‘NO SHARING ANYTHING’ policy in Canada’s federal prisons, I am told to have it in the face of everyone around me who have nothing, though not for lack of their hard work.

And come April, 2013, all the poverty, disparity, sadness and isolation created inside these prisons will be dramatically exasperated, and for what end?

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One comment on “Punitiveness or “Self Sufficiency” in Canadian Prisons

  1. http://www.anarchy101.org/ says:

    The no sharing anything rule was what struck me the most. My best friend comes from an abusive home, and part of the psychological torture that was used on him was a no sharing rule with his siblings…i am inspired to fight back.

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