Prison inmates' strike over pay spreads

A strike by federal inmates over a cut in their pay that began in Ontario has now spread to prisons in New Brunswick, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

The inmates are protesting against a 30 per cent pay cut that took effect this week. The federal government began deducting the money from prisoners' pay cheques as part of a move to recover costs under the government's Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

"We made it clear it’s going to be peaceful," said Mike Bolduc, head of the Lifers Group at the maximum security Atlantic Institution near Renous, N.B..

Inmates were off the job in Ontario at Bath, Collins Bay, Fenbrook and Warkworth Institutions. Today, inmates at the Atlantic Institution, Donnacona Institution in Quebec and at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, also stayed away from work.

A spokesperson for the Correctional Service of Canada confirmed Thursday that "work and program refusals are occurring sporadically across the country."

"Guys are just going to stick with it. The majority are still pretty adamant that they are going to stay out," said Ed Gaudet, an inmate at Bath Institution, west of Kingston, Ont.

Until now, the top pay an inmate could earn was $6.90 a day, but only a small percentage of prisoners make that. The average is $3 a day.

That rate was established in 1981. It was based on a review by a parliamentary committee that also factored in a deduction from inmates for room, board and clothing. Despite inflation over the past 30 years, inmates have not had a pay raise.

According to Correctional Service of Canada figures, the move will save about $4 million a year out of the agency's more than $2.6 billion budget.

"The cost to public safety is going to be a lot more," said Bolduc, adding that many prisoners save to send money home to support their families.

"When prisoners start getting released into the community with no money and have to resort to crime, how is that in the interest of public safety?" he said.

The strikes have also forced the shutdown of the government's CORCAN operations inside the prisons. CORCAN has contracts to make textiles, furniture and other goods as well as repair vehicles for government departments and outside agencies. Prisoners who worked at CORCAN used to receive incentive pay for meeting quotas but the government has also cancelled that program.

Sources tell CBC News that prison administrators are trying to convince inmates to go back to work, but many of the inmates say they are determined to continue their protest, even though they won't get paid.

Prison staff are picking up the slack, cooking meals, cleaning, collecting garbage and doing repair work normally done by inmates.

A spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney called the strike "offensive to hard working, law abiding Canadians."