Inmates in several federal prisons across Canada have gone on strike to protest against a 30 per cent cut in their pay that took effect this week. (istock)

New rules on how much federal inmates can earn while in prison are not sitting well with the John Howard Society in Sudbury.

Inmates are now earning 30 per cent less in prision and make, on average, about $3 dollars a day. They also have to pay for personal products, such as soap, stamps and deodorant.

The executive director of the John Howard Society said these changes appear to be a form of extra punishment for the inmates.

"The incarceration is the punishment," John Rimore said. "And to be punished again while someone is incarcerated is no different than grounding a child in your home, or giving them a time out as a punishment and then while they're serving their time out, deciding to slap them and hit them also."

Rimore said he believes the new rules are a way for the federal government to appear tough on those who commit crime.

The government says the deduction in pay is part of a move to recover costs under the federal government's Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

According to correctional service figures, the move will save about $4 million a year out of the total budget of more than $2.6 billion.

'Nickel and dime' approach

Canada’s correctional investigator, the ombudsman for prisons, called the move insensitive and short-sighted.

“My response to the correctional service was that this was really picking at low-hanging fruit,” said Howard Sapers, who has called in the past for an increase in inmate pay to reflect modern costs. He called these latest cuts  “nickel and dime” changes that would not generate much opposition.

“There has been no adjustment in the rate of compensation since 1981 and we all know how much more expensive things have become,” said Sapers.

“Writing a letter home, sending a birthday card to a child, sending a Christmas card, being able to buy personal hygiene articles, non-prescription drugs for inmates who suffer from skin conditions, eye drops for older offenders  … inmates don’t expect the taxpayer to pay for that, they purchase those themselves but they need to have a source of funds to purchase them.” 

Sapers said the move undermines the idea that inmates should develop a good work ethic and save for their release. “This really minimizes and jeopardizes the ability of an offender to come out of prison with any kind of a bank account whatsoever.”