Now, how ’bout money!

“Please sir, I want some more” from December 2 focused on food as the first of two examples where CSC keeps inmates “desperate and reckless”. Money is the second example referenced and very much interconnected with food.

We’ve talked about money before and we’ve talked about money more than once. Inmate pay in the federal prison system rates a SNL skit if reality wasn’t beyond credibility, and otherwise so painful for so many.

“Repetition is the mother of perfection,” according to Thomas Keller, Ryan Straten, and others, and we’ll go with that premise in hopes constant harping might bring about change. Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

So, here we go again.

Briefly, a parliamentary committee established a pay-scale for offenders in federal institutions in 1980. It was based on the minimum wage at the time, reduced by allowances for room and board and other relevant expenses. That pay-scale has stayed in place for almost four decades…..with no increases, not even adjustments for inflation.

But, the costs of what inmates are expected to do with that money keep rising year by year, including the price of food to supplement the meagre diet in institutions. In 1980, milk was less than $2/gallon, bread 50 cents/loaf, bacon $1.75/pound, flour $1.00/5 pounds, ground beef $1.00/pound, peanut butter $1.50/jar, potatoes $1.00/5 pounds, pork and beans 40 cents/can, is just a sampling.

To throw salt on the wound, Stephen Harper (it figures) supported a 30% reduction in pay in 2013 and eliminated at least one category on the scale. The cut was to support room and board expenses….and to help cover the cost of the telephone service.

An inmate legal action against the cuts failed because the Court was not prepared to rule on “the wisdom of the policy decisions made by the government.” The court chose not to comment on the veracity of that wisdom.

Well, not only did a government committee previously decide inmates already paid for their telephone services, but Correctional Service of Canada gets a kickback from Bell Canada, a percentage of the telephone revenue collected from inmates.

To boot, the scale established in 1980 not only accounted for room and board, but if the government had done for inmates all along what it does for government employees by granting pay increases, it wouldn’t be necessary to take another chunk of inmate pay.

December 14, 2018

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Federal prison inmate wages and allowances

Dear Minister Goodale:

When Prime Minister Trudeau issued his mandate letter to Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould calling for a review of “the changes in our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade,” it was expected and hoped Correctional Service of Canada policies would come under scrutiny.

After all this time, there hasn’t been a lot of movement. Oh yes, CSC is working to reconfigure its solitary confinement practices but that’s a result of civil actions against the Service, and not ministerial orders.

Of the areas in the federal prison system needing a closer look, financial allowances and wages for inmates is a priority. You know the present pay-scale was set in 1980. Not only have there been no increases in the last near forty years, but the Harper government supported a 30% cut and eliminated extra pay for work with CORCAN. Today, federal prisoners are expected to use 1980 dollars, reduced by 30%, to meet their needs at 2018 prices.

When would you think “slave labour” is a warranted designation?

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc: The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice

We’ll continue with other examples of government “wisdom” at the beginning of the New Year. Until then, the next two postings will update “A slap in the face; a pat on the back.”

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