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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ontario prisoners should receive HST cheques

The cheque is in the jail.
Almost 1,200 convicted criminals in Ontario jails will be receiving more than $550,000 in “transition” cheques to offset the pinch of the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax, the Star has learned.
“You’re a criminal serving time in prison – you should not be getting an HST bribe cheque,” Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Friday.
“It’s just outrageous. Ontario families are already angry enough about this greedy tax grab, but this is going make them even madder,” Hudak said of the HST, which takes effect July 1.
“This shows how dramatically out of touch (Premier) Dalton McGuinty is from Ontario families,” he said.
Mail call will be welcomed by those inmates serving less than 90 days in provincial correctional facilities, as they are the only convicts eligible for the payments.
Criminals in federal penitentiaries or in provincial custody sentenced to more than 90 days will not receive a dime.
About 6.6 million Ontario households with an income of less than $160,000 began receiving the cheques on Thursday. It’s the first of three payments totalling up to $1,000.
The money comes from federal coffers after Prime Minister Stephen Harper last year convinced Premier Dalton McGuinty to blend the 8 per cent provincial sales tax with the 5 per cent GST to boost the economy. Harper forked over $4.3 billion to cover the transition payouts.
Eligibility for the cheques is based mostly on income, according to the Canada Revenue Agency, the federal department that distributes them and is responsible for administering the Ontario Sales Tax Transition Benefit.
“You must be a resident of Ontario; you must be one of the following: 18 years of age or older, married, living common-law, or the parent of a child under the age of 18 who is living with you,” the agency’s website says.
“You must not have been incarcerated for a period of 90 days or more that includes the specified date; and you must have filed a 2009 income tax and benefit return for the June 2010 and December 2010 payments, and a 2010 return for the June 2011 payment.”
On May 8, the most recent date for which information is available, there were 1,166 inmates in provincial jails serving sentences of fewer than 90 days. Most are doing time for minor offences such as mischief to property, causing a disturbance in a public place, speeding and parking infractions.
Of those nearly 1,200 convicts, 25 per cent identify themselves as either common-law or married, so if their household income is less than $160,000, they would qualify for $1,000 in cheques.
Single people with an income of less than $80,000 will receive a total of $300 in payments.
If all 1,166 inmates are eligible, the total payout to prisoners would be about $553,850.
Revenue Minister John Wilkinson said Thursday that the payments are to help Ontarians cope with higher levies on goods and services such as gasoline, haircuts, home heating fuels and electricity, and taxi fares.
“These transition cheques are designed to put more money back into people’s pockets as we transition to the HST,” said Wilkinson, emphasizing the streamlined levy is but one facet of the government’s sweeping changes, including income and corporate tax cuts.
“The most important benefit will be a stronger economy and more jobs that result from our overall package of tax reform,” he said.
Economists estimate the business-friendly HST will create almost 600,000 new jobs by spurring investment in Ontario.

I completely agree with provincial Ontarian inmates receiving HST transition checks! They have that right, if they meet the criteria and should not be deprived thereof. These payments are designed to help Ontarians cope with higher levies on goods and services, such as gasoline, haircuts, home heating fuels and electricity. About 1200 prisoners who will receive these checks likely have to contribute to the maintenance of a household, whether they are single or in a relationship and whether they have children or not. Like any other citizens, they receive bills for many of the costs described previously and they need the money and deserve the money, as much as anyone else does. Individuals do not lose their rights and freedoms when they commit a crime, regardless of what the public would like to happen. Most prisoners serving these short sentences are doing time for minor offenses (when in my opinion, they should not even be imprisoned!), such as mischief to property, causing a disturbance in a public place, speeding and parking infractions. Most of these individuals are likely in prison because they were unable to pay fines (known as fine defaulters), signalling that poverty is an underlying cause of these criminalized acts. If we want to reduce crime, we need to reduce poverty and unemployment. 

We should not be punishing the socially disadvantaged and marginalized communities with prison time, when they live in poverty and cannot afford to pay fines or restitution. Is it not enough that we punish the poor with prison time? Do we have to move beyond what this type of punishment is intended to do -- deprive liberty -- to also punish these individuals economically? No. Has the Canadian public become so concerned with their money and lacking of compassion that they want to rob prisoners of funds that would help them maintain a household while incarcerated or would help them in their reintegration into society upon release from prison? 

I believe that these prisoners SHOULD get their HST checks. We should also expand eligibility to many more prisoners who pay for overpriced goods in prison canteens across Ontario who could use this money to help them successfully reintegrate into society once released, to ease their financial difficulties. These funds have nothing to do with their criminalization and therefore they should be kept as a separate issue because "to conflate the two is to actually create the conditions in which crime is more likely to occur." 

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