Freeze the CSC! (2023)

Freeze the CSC “Room & Board” Deductions Taken From Prisoners in Federal Prisons, and Provide Better Wages for Work and Working Conditions!

People who serve time in Canadian federal prisons are forced to work for less than $6.90 per day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) froze a 22% deduction that is taken from prisoners for “room & board”. This deduction was introduced as part of a series of Harper prison reforms in 2013 that made already exploitative working conditions even worse. We are calling on CSC to freeze the room and board deductions taken from prisoners every pay cycle, and to provide fair wages, safe working conditions, and proper accreditation and training for work done inside prisons.

Background Information

  • The work that prisoners do is not considered to be work by the CSC, the Federal government, or the Canadian legal system. Instead, this work is considered to be a program that is part of a person’s rehabilitation and outlined in a prisoner’s correctional plan. We think this is bullshit, work is work.
  • Prisoners work in two different areas of the prison. The first area is in the upkeep and functioning of the prison. This includes general maintenance, cleaning, and cooking. The second area is CORCAN, which is a “special operating agency” of CSC that produces office furniture and textiles, and conducts other services like printing and laundry for government ministries and departments such as the prison and military.
  • The work that prisoners do is excluded from employment standards, labour laws, as well as health and safety laws.
  • None of the work that prisoners do provides the required training, teaches the necessary skills, or awards accreditation in ways that would increase someone’s chances of being hired upon one’s eventual release.
  • The total pay that prisoners receive for their work depends on a grading system that is used as both incentive and punishment. Prisoners who are at the Grade A level, receive $6.90 per day and those who are at the lowest Grade F level, receive $1.00 a day. People who aren’t able to work because they are sick, receive $2.50 per day (Grade E). At the end of every ten day period several deductions are made on the total including 22% for “room and board,” 8% for phone use and maintenance of the inmate telephone system, and $11 dollars for cable subscription The average minimum wage in Canada is currently $15.50. According to Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) reports, the average pay for prisoners working full time is around 30 cents per hour.
  • Having money to spend on basic goods and services is necessary to survival inside. In addition to having to pay for phone calls to keep in touch with loved ones on the outside, many prisoners report inadequate food options through the cafeteria and rely on canteen items to supplement their diet. Prisoners also pay for their own toiletries, clothes, over-the-counter medication, and stationary. What little money prisoners have also goes to paying for food for family trailer visits, helping family pay for gas to come visit, and supporting family members on the outside.
  • In 2013, the Harper government passed a series of prison reforms that included a 30% deduction in wages and the elimination of incentive pay for CORCAN work. These changes ignored the fact the room and board deductions were accounted for when the pay scales were implanted in 1981, and that prisoner wages had remained stagnant since then. Prisoners responded with strikes and legal challenges to these changes.
  • In the context of COVID-19 isolation measures in Spring 2020, the CSC froze the room and board deductions. Given that most prisoners were locked down almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week for two years, it was the very least they could do.
  • Nearly 3 years later, the CSC threatens to re-implement the room and board deductions in a context where rising prices of consumer goods and inflation are hitting prisoners hard.

We Are Calling on CSC to:

  1. Permanently freeze the room and board deductions taken from prisoners every pay cycle
  2. Provide fair wages, safe working conditions, and proper accreditation and training for the work done inside prisons

For more information, see Jordan House and Asaf Rashid’s “Solidarity Beyond Bars: Unionizing Prison Labour,” Sarah Fortin’s “Pay in Canadian Prisons 1980-2016,” Jordan House’s “Making Prison Work: Prison Labour and Resistance in Canada,” Shanisse Kleusken’s “Legitimating the “Fiasco”: Canadian State justifications of CORCAN Prison Labour,” Guerin v Canada 2018 FC, and The Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) Reports.

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