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OpEd: It’s criminal that striking prisoners think their pay cut is harsh

Inmates cost society a bundle every year so they shouldn't complain about their wages being trimmed to help reduce federal expenses.
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Gord Woodward, October 3, 2013 8:57:48 AM

Orange may be the new black on Netflix, but in Canadian jail cells green is the colour of new inmate unrest. And that should leave the rest of us seeing red.

The cons at several prisons, you see, have gone on strike (meaning, presumably, we should all stock up on license plates to avoid the coming shortage) because, like many things in the slammer, their daily pay has been slashed. By about a buck a day.

Now, granted that’s about 30 per cent of the wage paid to the men and women for their menial duties behind bars, but it’s still peanuts compared with the $312 a day taxpayers fork out to keep them there. For those who don’t have calculators supplied by the federal  government, that’s $113,880 a year. (Hey, getting the X-rated channels on Club Fed TVs ain’t cheap, you know ).

The inmates are upset because their cheques cover things like shampoo and soap that—unlike the food and lodging—aren’t provided by their host. So they’ve stopped work to protest what they say is harsh treatment.  (You want harsh treatment? Let’s throw these strikers in jail! Er, wait a sec …)

The reduction isn’t intended as further punishment but as part of federal spending cutbacks. The battle to balance the budget has also eliminated incentive pay for cons who work in a Corrections Canada program that gives them work experience in textiles, manufacturing and other trades.

That’s right—inmates were offered extra money if they would deign to put their time to some constructive use that would benefit their futures. (Since when do we treat cons like teenagers?)

Now, chopping prisoner pay isn’t exactly going to offset a multi-billion-dollar hole in the budget; the kind of creative bookkeeping required to make that happen will take the skills that landed several of the white collar cons in jail in the first place (which leaves us wondering how those crooks in Ottawa get away with it).

But inmates can share the burden with the rest of us, since they too helped cause the financial problem by using costly government services like prisons (institutions that are very much like the male brain: not enough cells).

Rather than condemning the bean counters, we should congratulate Ottawa on rehabilitating offenders by exposing them to the realities of life on the outside, like pay cuts that make it hard for working families to pay for the necessities (though cons are spared the cruel and inhumane punishment of spending eight hours a day in a cubicle).

To complain about losing pay when they are getting so much for free from society—the same society damaged by their criminal actions—well, let’s just say Canadians are a little less than sympathetic.

So call orange the new black all you want. Only one colour really matters. And that is the red on the federal financial ledger. Prisoners can do their small part to help white it out.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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Gord Woodward
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