Guards support Ontario Tory chain-gang plan, Hudak says

The province’s prison guards welcome a plan to force inmates to do manual labour in the community to earn credit for prison perks, Tim Hudak said Wednesday.

At a campaign stop at a plastic manufacturer, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader used Gracious Living employees who work “40-hour weeks before going home to watch TV” as a backdrop to elaborate on his prison-work program that critics are maligning as a “chain gang” initiative.

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His plan calls for prisoners in provincial jails to put in up to 40 hours a week doing tasks such as picking up garbage, raking leaves and cleaning graffiti. In exchange, they would get credits for things such as television viewing, coffee and gym time depending on the type of work performed and the number of hours worked.


“Provincial guards like this idea,” he said. “We’re just asking the prisoners to do what every other hard-working Ontarian does – an honest day’s work instead of spending the day working out to become better criminals.”


The campaign said Tuesday that the program would be “revenue neutral,” but that they would set aside $20-million of the corrections budget in case it’s needed.


“Depending on what manual labour projects are undertaken this program could deliver cost savings to Ontario taxpayers,” the campaign material states. “Work that is currently paid for with taxpayer dollars that others do not want to do (raking leaves, cutting grass, picking up trash, doing laundry), when done by inmates, would free up taxpayer dollars to be spent on priorities like front-line health care.”


The Conservatives listed a string of perks that prisoners currently enjoy, including “yoga classes designed by a zenmaster, interactive writing workshops to express and honour each person’s unique experiences, healthy-cooking-on-a-budget classes to encourage healthy food choices instead of fast food and premium cable television with high-definition channels.”


His opponents have derided the program as ill-conceived, pointing out he hasn’t actually said how the prisoners would be supervised once they leave the prison. Guards are not armed in Ontario, and an initiative to arm the country’s 4,800 border guards has already cost more than $1-billion.


“Hudak has admitted the prisoners will not in fact be chained,” the Liberal campaign said. “Nor would the guards be armed. In fact, there would be 42 dangerous criminals for every two unarmed guards.”


Mr. Hudak didn’t answer when asked if he intended to arm guards, and said he would need to consult with correctional officers and supervisors to determine the best way to keep prisoners from running off.