Inmates Charged 42¢ Tax

Public Safety Canada is imposing a 42¢ tax on federal prisoners to pay for the Correctional Service’s telephone system.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney declined an interview on the compulsory fee to be charged all inmates whether or not they make a phone call.

“This government is interested in one thing – punishment, punishment, punishment,” said Liberal MP Wayne Easter, a former solicitor general.

Amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations will see all inmates’ pay docked 8 percent every two weeks to pay the “administrative cost” of telephone privileges. Prisoners or their families currently pay for long-distance charges, while telecom companies pay to provide telephones.

“Little things like this matter,” said Easter, MP for Malpeque, P.E.I. “An inmate will now find it more difficult to stay connected with family or call legal counsel. Those things matter.”

The MP noted the Correctional Service has not raised inmates’ pay since 1981. Wages currently range from a basic allowance of $1 daily to $6.90 per day for work as janitors, kitchen helpers, groundskeepers and other prison labour.

“The cost of what inmates are supposed to buy for themselves – stamps, candy bars, phone calls – has increased since those pay scales were introduced,” said Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, a federal ombudsman. “The amount of money inmates have to save for their release or send to their families has been significantly eroded.”

Telephone use is tightly restricted in the prison system. The Correctional Service reported all inmates must submit a “call list” of approved names, addresses and numbers of individuals they request to contact; and then must pre-pay a telephone card to make a call, typically from a centrally-located phone.

Sapers estimated five percent of inmates are foreign nationals: “The cost of an overseas call is $30. If you’re an inmate at the allowance level, one dollar a day, it means it will take a month to earn enough to call your family.”

Prison managers said the phone tax was intended to recover the $1.6 million annual cost of compiling inmates’ call lists and distributing phone cards.

“We get increasing complaints about the hardening of conditions of confinement – the actual experience of dong time,” Sapers said. “We see increased crowding, more use of force, more self-injury; we don’t see a growth in frivolous complaints.”

Sapers said most inmates are paid at in the range of $5.25 a day. More than 15,000 prisoners are in federal confinement, by Correctional Service estimate.

By Tom Korski

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