Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has put an end to inmates spending their own money to order in food. With a warden’s approval, inmate groups had received permission to to order pizza and fried chicken.
These food drive nights are also fundraisers for local charities and relief efforts such as Doctors Without Borders and victims of hurricanes and earthquakes.
John Chaif, a member of the inmate committee at Joyceville Institution, near Kingston, Ont., said in recent years Joyceville inmates have donated thousands of dollars to children’s toy drives at Christmas, to local food banks, to shelters for youth and to earthquake victims in Haiti.
Chaif said inmates were charged a premium for the food and part of the proceeds would go to a charity.
The food drives were also an opportunity for inmates to make positive social contact with people on the outside, according to Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.
“This is not something to be discouraged, in fact it is something that we should try to encourage,” Latimer said. “The more inmates are participating in pro-social contact, the more likely it is that they will continue to do so on the outside.”
“We raised a lot of money from those food nights for different charities and that is really going to hurt,” said Lois Gorgerat, a volunteer with the United Way in Eastern Ontario. For the past 15 years she has helped them donate tens of thousands of dollars to local school projects, humane societies and local firefighters.
“They raise from $5,000 to $20,000 a year... it’s gonna hurt the community… if they’re trying to do something good to give back to the community, why are you putting up these walls?”
Greg McMaster has been in prison for more than 34 years. He’s helped raise thousands of dollars for various charities, including the annual Special People’s Olympiad at Collins Bay Institution in Kingston.
“We raised as much as $50,000 and $25,000 of that was raised in-house from inmates,” McMaster said.
He said inmates who have jobs make, at most, about $54 dollars every two weeks. So for them to pay $5 or $10 for a slice of pizza is a big investment.
“We’re supporting local businesses in the community and on top of that we’re making donations to local charities. So at the end of the day who’s really getting hurt?” he said.
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