Federal Prisoners will be Charged More for Room and Board

14 Oct, 2012

Federal inmates will be charged more for ‘room and board’ and telephone services behind bars, and lose incentive pay to work under get-even-tougher- on-offenders changes announced just weeks after the Omnibus Bill C-10 received Royal Assent in March.

Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews called the changes “offender accountability measures” meant to “restore balance” to a system that has too long favoured the rights of offenders over victims.

In addition, the government is supporting two bills introduced by Conservative backbenchers to crack down on so-called “vexatious” grievances by prisoners, and to set up a forced debt recovery scheme to require inmates who win money from lawsuits against the Crown to pay outstanding child support, restitution orders or victim surcharges.

Toews shrugged off questions about whether the additional changes would discourage inmates. “Part of rehabilitation at the top three (of six) levels of inmate pay—paid to those who participate in programs and employment projects within prison walls as part of rehabilitation plans—will start contributing about 32% of their income “toward housing costs.”

Inmate pay is already minimal, from $1 a day to a maximum of $10 every 2 weeks, up to the top level that pays $6.90 a day to a maximum of $69 every two weeks. It has not changed in more than 30 years, has never been adjusted for inflation, and prisoners who earn the higher amounts, or have other income like pensions, already pay room and board. As well, all inmates must contribute to an inmate welfare fund to cover things like television and cable costs, organized activities for offend- ers, inmate donations to charitable groups and legal fees for group actions.

However, Toews said the top-earning inmates should pay about 30% of their income for “room and board” to put them in line with what “most Canadians pay in terms of their own housing costs.”

There will be stricter rules governing how prison staff may buy items for inmates from outside suppliers. Toews said too often prison staff made “one-off trips” to fulfill requests. “Institutional staff are not personal shoppers,” he said. Staff now will schedule trips to a set list of stores, or order from a catalogue the items requested that are paid for with the inmates’ own money.

Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers, testifying about a private member’s bill to garnish any money an inmate might win from a lawsuit against the Crown, told a Commons committee to carefully consider changes.

Although inmate pay has not been adjusted since 1981, the cost of purchasing minor items has skyrocketed. The standard basket of goods available at a prison canteen—sold at a 10% profit margin—has increased from $8.49 to $61.59, a 725% increase.

In the past 3 years, Correctional Services has cut the non-essential healthcare services it covers, and required non-prescription items like Tylenol or medicated shampoo bought through the inmate canteen. Sapers said a 100ml bottle of Buckley’s cough syrup sells for $7.58 inside—”more than one day’s wages.”

“My point here is simply to say that crime does not, in fact, pay,” said Sapers. “Prison rarely captures the affluent. Most offenders have no savings and their earning capacity inside a federal institution is extremely limited. There seems little point to diverting earnings that at best will only minimally support release. It is not unusual for a released offender to be facing thousands of dollars of accumulated debt and only limited employment opportunities.”

Sapers said while “part of an offender’s reintegration should include the satisfaction of debts to the best of their ability,” he is concerned the proposal ‘may prove both unworkable and counterproductive.”

“It means a great deal to those who are oppressed to know
that they are not alone. And never let anyone tell you
that what you are doing is insignificant.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu

Source: www.thestar.com 

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