05/09/2012 10:45 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Inmates To Pay More For Prison Room And Board, Phone Calls, Vic Toews Says

OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is taking his tough-on-crime campaign a step further by making prison inmates pay more for room and board behind bars.

The minister said Wednesday that Corrections Canada will also eliminate incentive pay for convicts who work in prison shops, and will turn the running of all prison canteens over to inmates.

Other changes will streamline the way prisoners purchase products from the outside and make them cover all the costs of their telephone calls.

Toews said the changes will save taxpayers $10 million a year.

Opposition leaders condemned the federal approach toward prisoners, saying it will make the streets more dangerous in the long run.

"The whole notion of rehabilitation has been thrown out the window by these reactionaries," said interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae.

Prisoners now pay up to $25 a week for room and board, depending on how much they earn in the various prison programs.

The change means that prisoners on the high end of the pay scale will have to pay 30 per cent of their income toward their keep.

The changes are effective next year.

"These measures are tangible steps forward to hold criminals to account," Toews said in a statement.

Rae noted that even under the Conservatives' plan, eventually people leave prison, and it's better if they leave prepared. The "bizarre" measures will discourage inmates from taking those steps, he said.

"What is the likelihood that people are actually going to then want to take courses or do work or engage in useful activity?" Rae said.

"It's going to encourage people to leave without anything, without any means, without any capacity to provide for themselves as they get out of prison."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Conservative policies "would put more criminals back on the street" and prompt an increase in repeat offences.

Corrections Canada said there's no need for incentive pay in prison workshops because the jobs are highly sought after.

The agency said inmates now are responsible for 85 per cent of canteens and will take over the rest next year.

"Transferring all canteens to inmates will result in a cost-savings ... and will also allow inmates to have greater influence in the administration of the canteen, which includes the creation of additional inmate jobs," the corrections service said in a statement.

It said that when prisoners want to buy an item not available in the canteen, prison staff go out and make the purchase. The change will standardize the process on a set schedule.

"Institutional staff are not personal shoppers," the agency said.

Toews also expressed support for a private member's bill introduced by Tory backbencher Roxanne James which would crack down on inmates who file so-called vexatious grievances.

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