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Are federal prisoners paid to work?

Federal prisoners can generally receive daily payments and allowances while incarcerated.

There are four daily payment levels for prisoners who participate in program assignments (school, work, programming, etc.):

  • Payment level A: $6.90
  • Payment level B: $6.35
  • Payment level C: $5.80
  • Payment level D: $5.25

Prisoners can earn higher payment levels by showing good institutional behaviour, consistently attending work or required programs, engaging in their Correctional Plans, etc. Reviews are typically done at least once every 6 months (or sooner if the prisoner has been suspended from a program assignment or transferred to a higher security level). Generally, prisoners will be maintained at a payment level for 6 months before being considered for a higher payment level. A prisoner who refuses to participate in any program assignment that is part of their Correctional Plan will typically be capped at payment level D.

Prisoners can also earn a daily allowance of $2.50 if they have authorized absences from their program or unable to work for reasons beyond their control (unemployment, administrative segregation, intake assessment process, etc.).

Prisoners who refuse to participate in all program assignments and those in segregation for disciplinary reasons who participate in program assignments are eligible for a basic allowance of $1 per weekday.

However, in some select circumstances, prisoners may not receive payments or allowances. For example, prisoners are are suspended from a program or put in disciplinary segregation and not participating in a program may be on zero pay for 10 working days.

Prisoners are also not paid or given an allowance on days they do not participate in their program assignment, which for most would be weekends. Those who work full-time can earn 10 full days of pay per 14 day pay period, with some very limited opportunity for overtime. Most prisoners are expected to work or participate in a program during weekdays. Some prisoners may be expected to work on weekends, and they would then most likely be given time off during the week (or paid overtime).

It is important to remember that prisoners may also have deductions on their pay for food and accommodations, etc. So even at the highest pay level, prisoners may struggle to pay for phone calls and basics at the canteen.

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