Prisons insist……


The minimum wage across Canada in 1980 was just over $3.00 an hour.  To give some perspective, as recorded here back in December of 2018, a sampling of 1980 prices listed milk at less than $2 a 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 a can.  To add another context, a downtown apartment in major cities rented for about $250 per month.

At that time, a parliamentary committee established a pay-scale for federal prisoners based on the minimum wage, reduced by allowances for room and board, and other relevant expenses.  Those ‘relevant expenses’ have risen and fallen over the years, depending on the political party in power in Ottawa at any given point, and adjustments in prison industry policy.  For example, Correctional Service of Canada suspended the room and board charge for a period during the COVID pandemic to allow inmates to maintain family ties when no in-person visits were permitted.

Why is money given to federal inmates?  The Act under which the federal prison industry operates says it’s to encourage participation in institutional programs and social reintegration, but it’s not a compensation for work, as that would lead to ‘slave labour’ accusations.  Correctional Service of Canada will say that the money is to help inmates save for their release, help support family, pay for phone calls, supplement diets through canteen purchases, buy toiletries, clothing, tv’s. radios, games or whatever the CSC catalog offers

There’s never been an increase in the pay-scale, federal Conservative governments even made cuts at one point, and other factors have adjusted the figures over time. Basically, an inmate who has no job (there are few available, given the number of potential applicants) and is not involved in programming may end up with about $4 every two weeks.  Another inmate could qualify for ‘welfare pay’ at about $16/two weeks, others in programs or with jobs can see around $44/two weeks.  There are very few inmates at A-level pay, just over $60/two weeks.

Inmates have a $850 annual spending ceiling, although money applied to phone cards is not subject to limits.  Families/friends can and do send money to the incarcerated, but that doesn’t change what can be done with it.  No matter, the prices for whatever can be purchased is at market, the same or like what is available in the community.  So, what is this about saving money, supporting families, or buying canteen, toiletries, and clothing?  Any wonder there is a thriving black market in our federal institutions?

More on money, the assessed value of an inmate’s “cell effects” is capped at $1500.  From a pair of socks to shoes to a desk lamp to a television, the total can’t exceed that number.  The $1500 limit has been in place for at least the last 30 years, and possibly longer.  Again, $1500 bought a lot more in 1990 than it does in 2022.  What will it buy in 2032?

There is no arguing that a prison sentence imposes many restrictions, and limits on the use of money are necessarily a part of it.  But, when an inmate understands that their finances are restricted by policies that haven’t changed or been updated in more than a generation, how can Correctional Service of Canada claim it’s meeting a rehabilitative and correctional mandate?

The answer as always of course is that CSC doesn’t care, and with that, how can an offender not tell the prison industry, and the government that pretends to oversee its operation, and the society it represents, to turn around and bend over?

We deserve that.

Does drilling down over and over on these systemic failures ever become tedious?  No, not when what’s at stake is right over wrong!


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