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Q&A: Prisoner on strike says inmates have rights too

10/11/2013 08:56 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
As inmates at federal prisons across Canada strike to protest pay cuts, a prisoner at the Donnacona Penitentiary, located southwest of Quebec City, spoke with CBC’s Mike Finnerty to explain why they deserve better wages.

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Prison inmates' strike over pay spreads

The 30 per cent pay cut took effect last week as a part of the federal government's plan to recover costs under the Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

The following is a conversation between Mike Finnerty, the host of CBC's Daybreak, and a man who was imprisoned after a string of Toronto-area armed robberies and home invasions a decade ago. 

The CBC has granted the prisoner anonymity because he fears being punished for speaking out against prison administration.

Finnerty: Why are you on strike? 

Inmate: We’re on strike right now because we’re not satisfied with the pay that we’re getting. They are reducing our pay. They've taken away the Corrections Canada [CORCAN] incentives — when we assemble more products than we’re supposed to, we get a bonus for it because we’re doing good, hard work. They’ve taken that away from us.

FinnertyWhat kinds of things do you make in the CORCAN factories? 

Inmate: Chairs, cabinets, things like that. Different CORCAN factories across Canada make different products.

Finnerty: How much do you get paid?

Inmate: It depends on the level of pay that you're on — the most you could get paid is around $65 every two weeks, and that's with a CORCAN job. But even people who have simple jobs such as cooking, cleaning — their pay has been reduced. So they're only making sometimes a dollar a day. 

I find that to be unacceptable because I’ve never seen a policy or a law in Canada that says that just because you’re an inmate in a prison means that you shouldn’t get paid minimum wage.

We’re working citizens as well.

Finnerty: You're not forced to work, are you?

Inmate: 

Finnerty: What does the strike involve? 

Inmate: There's no violence involved ... no disruption at all. We're just refusing to go to work until we're able to come to a peaceful solution and a conclusion to this issue of pay. 

Finnerty: How is the institution dealing with the strike? 

Inmate: Well basically we're on lockdown 24-hours a day. We get out for an hour to shower and do our little daily activities. It's hard to get little things like soaps, shampoo, because the institution would normally provide that but it's not being provided.

Finnerty: How would you respond to those who say that as an inmate, you have given up certain rights that people working outside of prison have?

Inmate: Most people in prison, they’re trying to strive for better. They’re trying to change their life and get out of prison. I’ve been in prison since I was 19. I’m now 28. I’ve had a lot of years to think about my actions, to think about what I want to do in the future and how I want to contribute and when I’m in prison. I like to maintain a job, maintain myself in programs, so that I could better myself for when it’s time for me to be released from prison.

I understand people outside [prison] not having much sympathy, but at the same time, we’re all human beings and I think, you know, this is Canada, it's not Bangladesh … it’s not supposed to be sweatshop-type living. It’s not the Siberian Gulags in Russia. 

Finnerty: How much are you asking to be paid? 

Inmate: We’re just asking to be paid what we were originally being paid before this new policy got implemented, or at least [we would like the institution] to work with us to allow more jobs to be available. 

Not all inmates have access to jobs, because there are a limited amount. If you have people in prison not working, not making money, not able to buy canteen or send money to their family and support their kids, this is going to cause some psychological problems with that person. That’s not going to contribute to his reintegration.

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