Inmates in Canada’s prison systems are protesting across the country. They are protesting a 30% decrease in their already small wages. The prisoners are protesting peacefully, by simply refusing to work, to have their wages put back to what they were before – which is earning a maximum of $6.90 per day.
Considering these people are prisoners, they may not garner a huge amount of sympathy from the general public. There are choruses of people who proclaim that these prisoners are lucky to be paid at all; that the fact this decrease in wages inhibits any ability to save money for themselves for when they’re released, or help pay for things for their families on the outside, is their fault alone. That these inmates should have thought about being able to provide for themselves and their family’s before they got themselves locked up.
That way of thinking is not constructive or conducive to change. Eventually, the vast majority of these inmates will be released back into the general public. If a person within the prison system is working, they are pushing to make themselves better. They are saving for a future for when they are released and building a skill set to help make the transition easier to find work outside the prison. An unnamed prisoner, who resides in the Donnacona Penitentiary in Quebec, spoke with a reporter for CBC about why they are protesting. It must be strongly noted that these prisoners are being peaceful with their protest. There are no violent uprisings; this is a group of people who show they understand that violence and forceful uprising against authority is what got them into prison. They are asking for their voices to be acknowledged, and they are making sure their actions reflect the seriousness with which they take this wage cut. These prisoners are showcasing how they are able to now heed to society’s law and order. They are showcasing a growth in attitude and an understanding that there will be a lack of sympathy from the public about their plight, but they are fighting, not for more, just simply for what they had before.
With an over-reliance on incarceration, many Canadian prisoners may not have even been incarcerated if they were tried somewhere else. There has been an increase in incarceration in Canada by 5% in the last decade; however, the national police-reported crime rate has decreased. It should also be noted that violent crime has decreased steadily since the early 2000s. While non-violent offenses have increased, the people who commit them are considered “non-violent”. They pose no serious safety risk to the general public. This is important to note because with less violent offenses, means that more non-violent offenders are being imprisoned. It is fact that about one in seven prisoners have a mental disorder. Meaning, they are more likely to harm themselves than others. Also, about half of all prisoners have either an alcohol or drug dependency. They are people who have serious addictions that need rehabilitation or institutionalization, not incarceration. It is even noted that a main purpose for incarceration within Canada is to provide services for successful reintegration to society. Since most offenders are non-violent, their eventual release is inevitable. With a wage decrease for the work program, and also only limited number of work positions available, the possibility of successful reintegration is seriously in jeopardy.
When a person’s pay is cut by more than a quarter, there are going to be serious financial implications. They cannot save properly for their release, infringing on the ability to afford housing when they are back in the general public. They can’t afford to make phone calls and send letters or cards to loved ones while imprisoned. Not having the money to contact people on the outside, means that they are cut off. Being housed in prison is one thing; not having contact with the outside world is another. With no contact comes a sense of isolation. This impedes on an inmate’s ability to reintegrate into regular society. When there is no feeling of connection outside the prison walls, there is no feeling of obligation to attune to society’s rules. If a person is cut off from society, upon release, there is a greater chance of reoffending because with no ties, or with lessened ties to the world outside of the prison.
The already small wages that lagged behind inflation of simple goods like non-prescription medications (like allergy and skin medications), and phone calls, is all they want back. But most people see prisoners as outsiders, as people who committed a crime, and are therefore paying for it the way our justice system sees fit, and also believe prisoners deserve no sympathy or voice because they created their own situation. If asking for sympathy is too much, please consider this. For every prisoner who is unable to pay for simple medications, for every prisoner who doesn’t work, for every prisoner who can’t afford to contact family and friends on the outside, there is a person who will be angry with the system, and have no obligation to do “their part” of working and following the law upon release. The more estranged people feel from society, the less need to do “right” inevitably follows. And with no incentive to work, and earn money to save and spend on necessities, many prisoners will opt out of working altogether. This further decreases the chance of successfully reintegrating into regular society because without working, these prisoners will lack skill sets and a work history that would enable them to find an honest job upon release.
You don’t want ex-convicts who are angry and alienated back out in the general public because those are the ones who are likely to re-offend and only cost the system more money by having to give them more trials and prison time. What these prisoners are demonstrating by peacefully protesting their right to a decent wage to help with their future, is that they are people who want to better themselves, learn new skills, and be out in regular society again. Those are the kinds of ex-convicts you want out in the world. Ones who want to make a change for themselves and contribute positively to society.
These are just a few of the reasons why prisoner’s wages should not be cut, whatever money may be saved by cutting their wages ends up costing people across the country more, monetarily and/or within our society. Monetarily because the chance of re-offending will be higher due to the reasons I mentioned previously, landing them back in prison where they cost the government more tax money. And it will affect our society because with a greater chance of re-offenders entering the general public, there will potentially be more crime. What everyone wants is to have ex-convicts who are willing to be better and working towards that goal to be released back into the general public. This cannot be done if their voices and their reasons behind the protest continue to be ignored and shamed. If you are unable to sympathize with the prisoners, at least use some knowledge and approach the discussion with a level head and understand that an inmate earning a wage for work they perform behind bars doesn’t hurt you in any way; treating another person humanely is a more constructive path than shaming their complaints.
Rachel Ganzewinkel is a fourth year English and Creative writing student at Western. She spends most of her time reading great literature and essays and writing in hope of achieving the same level of awesomeness one day.