Back into the Submarine – Cuts to allowances and incentives deny fundamental policies

Prison will contribute to a change of behaviour through what it teaches. It teaches through programs, education and treatment and it teaches through the examples it sets. A system that abuses individuals teaches that “might is right” and that those with legal authority are hypocrites who say one thing and do another. It reinforces antisocial attitudes and values: the very opposite to those required for successful reintegration into the community as a law-abiding citizen. Fair and respectful treatment is a requirement of the Act because they are integral and necessary to achieving the purpose of public protection through successful reintegration.

Good, accessible programs and treatment set the groundwork for reintegration. Prison programs teach the theory while gradual reintegration provides the opportunity to apply the theories under supervision in the community. Prison rehabilitation programs are like teaching tennis in a submarine. You can teach the rules and the theory, but there is no opportunity to practice. Imprisonment fails if it makes no attempt to set the groundwork. Prison programs are likely to fail if there is no follow-through in the community. – Excerpt from comments of the John Howard Society on the five-year review of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) [1]

This passage, in my view, sets out the central  rationale for effective programs inside the walls and for incentives to promote prisoners’ participation in them. The rationale is not simply to provide work and education to help prisoners to prepare for success on the outside. It is not simply a means of somehow “persuading” prisoners to work. It is not simply a system that provides financial resources for reintegration (although this is very important). It is fundamentally a system that teaches, through fair and respectful treatment,  the values that should govern the relation between those in power and the citizens under their authority. It is a model for effective interaction and equity that gives rise to rehabilitation. It is a compact between the keeper and the kept that prisoners can rely upon in response to their efforts to change. It is a springboard to on-going support after release.

The changes to allowances and incentives that occurred in October, 2013, were patently examples of correctional authorities acting in a way ” that reinforces [attitudes] that are the opposite to those required for successful reintegration..” It is easy to see how the prisoners affected (virtually all of them) would see the decisions as examples of authorities “saying one thing and doing another”.  All the worse is the government’s public position that these measures are necessary aspects of austerity, intended to teach prisoners to be accountable.

Prior to the October 2013 measures inmates had access to pay levels of up to $6.90 per day for participation in programs and institutional work (cleaning, landscaping, kitchens etc). The average daily allowance was somewhere around $4.50. On top of this, inmates who worked in CORCAN, the prison industries manufacturing commodities for internal use and sales to outside businesses, could earn about $2.00 more per day (again at the highest level).

The basic allowances were created in 1981, following on recommendations in the 1977 MacGuigan Report, which responded to problems that had  that resulted in the riots in the early 1970’s. The Report made it clear that programs with appropriate incentives were an important aspect of rehabilitation and basic fairness. It’s recommendations included:

Work, Education and Training

39. The Penitentiaries Act should be amended to allow the products of inmate labour to compete on the open market, and the change should be implemented after full consultation with industry and with labour.

40. A national prison industries corporation should be established, and the full cooperation of business and labor enlisted in providing guidance in organization and implementation towards the fullest possible work opportunities in penitentiaries.

41. There must be a graduated system of incentives based on labour productivity. Incentives should include bonuses for piecework and improvements, and earned remission. Inmates who work either inside or outside penitentiaries should be required to pay room and board at reasonable rates and to contribute to the support of their families to the extent that these demands are compatible with their retaining a financial incentive to work.

42. The training given in workshops should be monitored by official representatives of outside trade groups, and the penitentiary system should direct itself towards the production of things in demand. Arrangements should be made with the provinces for apprenticeship programs and licencing or certification.

43. Academic education and trades training must be provided. Every inmate who so wishes should be allowed to follow correspondence courses.[2]

In my view, these recommendations are reflected in the John Howard excerpt, above, and in much of the legislation and policy that has arisen from the Report. The model proposed by Mr. Justice MacGuigan was clearly a system where prisoners could earn a place in an economy and society that respected them.

Not all of Mr. Justice MacGuigan’s ambitions were enacted. For example, the proposed nexus with private industry and labour organizations was not incorporated into the CCRA. Nevertheless, allowances were created and  CORCAN work and pay eventually came on line.

The allowances were based on the disposable income (15%) of a person in the community receiving the minimum wage in 1981 ( $3.50 per hour). Using the 15% calculation CSC provided $3.10 per day as a basic allowance, which could rise to $6.80 to inmates fully and very satisfactorily employed in work and programs.

Clearly these rates have not kept pace with the principles on which they were based. While inflation has risen about 250% in the ensuing 32 years, the allowances have risen by only 10 cents. As well CORCAN pay has not kept pace with the disposable income of apprentices and  workers in various industries in the private sector. It has become increasingly more difficult for inmates to use their pay in the manner that was intended, principally:

  • promoting family unity by helping spouses and children financially
  • setting aside funds for support in the community while re-building their lives
  • defraying travel costs for trips to meet with community organizations and plan work and accommodation on release
  • paying for telephone calls
  • contributing to services and events sponsored by inmate committees – cable television, group visits with families, socials
  • defraying the cost of personal hygiene and toiletry items
  • purchasing canteen items

Many organizations and agencies, such as the Correctional Investigator and various prisoner support/advocacy groups have constantly lobbied, over the years, for increases to allowances. They have cited, for example, the need for a post-release “nest egg” and the negative effect of reduced funds on inmate populations (e.g. more conflict and frustration; more “muscling” of inmates by aggressive inmates).

Imagine, then, the reaction of prisoners when the Minister of Public Safety ordered, not improvements, but further cuts to allowances and incentives, followed by CSC’s actual 30% reduction in allowances and elimination of CORCAN incentives.

Not only do these cuts eviscerate an already unsatisfactory program, they purport to be implemented according to law.

S. 78 of the CCRA provides:

  • 78. (1) For the purpose of
    • (a) encouraging offenders to participate in programs provided by the Service, or
    • (b) providing financial assistance to offenders to facilitate their reintegration into the community,

    the Commissioner may authorize payments to offenders at rates approved by the Treasury Board.

  • Marginal note:Deductions

    (2) Where an offender receives a payment referred to in subsection (1) or income from a prescribed source, the Service may

    • (a) make deductions from that payment or income in accordance with regulations made under paragraph 96(z.2) and any Commissioner’s Directive; and
    • (b) require that the offender pay to Her Majesty in right of Canada, in accordance with regulations made pursuant to paragraph 96(z.2.1) and as set out in a Commissioner’s Directive, an amount, not exceeding thirty per cent of the gross payment referred to in subsection (1) or gross income, for reimbursement of the costs of the offender’s food and accommodation incurred while the offender was receiving that income or payment, or for reimbursement of the costs of work-related clothing provided to the offender by the Service. (my emphasis)

 These provisions permit a deduction from allowances of up to 30% for food, accommodation and clothing. Based on this (one assumes) CSC has deducted 22% from the current allowances. This ignores, however, that 85% was effectively deducted from the 1981 allowances for room and board privileges and that this deduction of  $17.90 per day has remained in effect for 32 years.

CSC also deducted 8% from inmate allowances to help pay for the telephone system that permits inmates to call home and other community contacts. This was effected by changing Regulations to permit deductions for this purpose.The 8% levee is in addition to the exorbitant rate that inmates already pay for each and every call that they make.

The 30% deductions amount to double-dipping on an embarrassing scale.

The government does not blush, however. Rather their major argument is that the cuts are a savings measure, to assist in reducing the costs of the system as part of the overall Conservative austerity strategy. Without too much tortured analysis it is clear that this is a feeble argument.

Assuming about 15000  prisoners in federal institutions and a per capita average of, say, 4.50 per day for allowances and $1.00 for CORCAN work, this comes to about $21.5 million per annum of which the cuts equate to $6.5 million per year. Compare this to other costs that have been incurred by conservative policy:

  • the estimated $300 million  cost of the housing 3000 extra offenders (at about $100,000 per person/year) in federal institutions,  caused by various Conservation “tough on crime” measures
  • the costs of building new facilities to house the new admissions ($9.5 billion)
  • the extra cost of supervising and controlling increasingly frustrated inmate populations
  • the cost of prisoners  not being properly prepared for release – such as  delays in being granted release and being returned to custody after committing offences breaching parole conditions
  • the costs of broken families

The last three categories are beyond my ability to calculate.

Suffice to say that it costs about $70,000 a year more to hold an inmate in prison than it costs to supervise them on the street. And it costs $0.00 to pay for a rehabilitated and productive person in the long run.

Suffice to say that broken families and failed releases create more offenders, victims and prisoners.

Suffice to say that extra prison staff costs about $100.000 a head.

And violence in prisons? – priceless.

I have been hearing from prisoners and their families and from organizations across the country since the cuts took place. The universal sentiment is that the cuts were mean-spirited, unnecessary and damaging to family unification and reintegration programs. Inmates in many locations have instituted work stoppages and all manner of complaints, letters to CSC managers and MP’s and petitions have been filed. Litigation is currently underway as well.

Only substantial support from the public will change minds on this issue and bring corrections back to the realm of sanity. Absent this, well, this is what Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator had to say in his 2013 Annual Report:

Today, as my report makes clear, many of the same problems that were endemic to prison life in the early 1970s – crowding; too much time spent in cells; the curtailment of movement, association and contact with the outside world; lack of program capacity; the paucity of meaningful prison work or vocational skills training; and the polarization between inmates and custodial staff – continue to be features of contemporary correctional practice.
During the reporting period, CSC’s contribution to the government’s overall fiscal agenda has had an impact on a number of service delivery and program areas, including Inmate Welfare, Employment and Correctional Programming. Cost-saving and revenue-generating measures announced in FY 2012-13 will mean charging more for inmate telephone calls, an increase in room and board deductions, elimination of incentive pay for work in prison industries, cancellation of inmate social events (which help bridge the gap between prison and the outside world) and the closing of or reduced access to some inmate libraries.
In 2014, I hope that Canadians look beyond the postage stamp policy-making of the Government and urge their Parliamentarians, their neighbours and anyone who will listen to restore the vision that arose from the ashes of the Kingston Penitentiary riot.

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