Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No pensions for elderly prisoners -- absurd

In a chance encounter with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley on the way to work Tuesday, we were moved to dispense with the usual morning pleasantries in favour of an enthusiastic: “Good work, minister.”
After the initial shock of a Conservative minister getting praise from a journalist, Finley gave a knowing smile: “Oh, the pensions for prisoners thing — thanks.”
The minister’s well-earned kudos, of course, are for her move this week to end old-age security payments to hundreds of prison inmates doing time past the age of 64.
The issue was first raised in the Sun several months ago by columnist Peter Worthington, who noted that notorious serial killer Clifford Olson was collecting full old age benefits in the slammer.
The idea that taxpayers have been shelling out $1,200 a month to a vile psychopath who tortured and killed 11 kids, naturally caused a national furor (which we were only too happy to promote in this space).
This week Finley introduced legislation that would preclude all seniors in a federal pen — including Olson — from getting either the basic old age security, or the guaranteed income supplement aimed at the poorest of the poor.
The latest statistics show the change would currently affect about 350 federal prisoners.
Get with the program
The proposed legislation would also extend the pension ban to felons in provincial jails wherever provinces decide to get with the program which, presumably, most will want to do.
Notably, the legislation is careful not to leave the aged spouses of convicts without support.
The only serious criticism of nixing prisoner pensions was that it could leave hundreds of spouses — mainly elderly women — completely destitute and too old to fend for themselves.
Instead, most of the verbiage in Finley’s surprisingly complicated legislative bill is specifically to limit the measures to prisoners without further punishing their families.
The most amazing part of this story is not that pensions for prisoners are finally ending, but that they were paid in the first place and no one in government seemed to notice.
This is not small change. In the past decade alone, Canadian taxpayers have been stiffed close to $50 million in old age security cheques for some of the worst of the worst behind bars.
This isn’t just about denying public support to convicted criminals who don’t deserve it. They also don’t need it.
The old age security system — and the extra income supplement — exist precisely to ensure that all of our senior citizens have at least a bare minimum of subsistence-level support.
But prison inmates already get all their food, shelter, clothing and other necessities of life provided by the state at a cost to taxpayers of up to $150,000 a year.
The legislation properly allows old-age security to kick back in when a prisoner is released, and will need the same help as every other senior citizen.
The Conservatives, of course, were quick to turn the whole thing into part of their “tough-on-crime” agenda, putting victims ahead of criminals and all that.
While it may be all those things, mostly this is just common sense.
Worthington wrote that even sicko serial killer Olson found it amusingly odd that he would be getting a public pension in solitary confinement.
This time, at least, taxpayers get the last laugh. 

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s Liberal government has welcomed federal legislation that would end pension payments to federal inmates, including serial killed Clifford Olson.
There was a public outcry earlier this year when it became public that Olson would start receiving $1,100 a month when he turned 70 this year, making him eligible for Old Age Security benefits.
Olson has been in prison since 1982 for killing at least 11 boys and girls in B.C.
B.C. MLA John van Dongen joined federal cabinet member and B.C. MP Stockwell Day on Wednesday to announce the province’s support for the new bill, tabled a day earlier.
Van Dongen said B.C. is the first province on record to support the federal government taking action against “unfair” allocation of income support.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu also lauded the federal government for the changes.
“It would be my hope that the innocent victims will no longer feel further victimized by watching their attackers receive old age pensions during their forced retirement from their careers of crime,” Chu said in a release.
The proposed changes would prevent prisoners from applying for old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments.
The cash is meant to help seniors meet basic needs like food and housing, which the Conservatives say are already provided for prisoners.
Some 400 federal prisoners would forgo payments under the amendments, saving about $2 million a year if the legislation passes.
The government is also hoping to convince provinces and territories to cut off another 600 prisoners in jails, saving another $8 million.
Inmates incarcerated for two years or more would be the first to see their pensions end. Spouses or common-law partners of inmates wouldn’t be affected by the new measures. 

I disagree with ending pensions for convicted criminals. If they are released, these payments could help to support them financially. That is a human right and should not be denied to elderly prisoners. 

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