Inmates at Stony Mountain Institution have walked off the job to protest against a 30 per cent cut in their pay.
They're joining their counterparts on strike at federal prisons in Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
On Monday, the federal government began deducting the money from prisoners' paycheques as part of a move to recover costs under Ottawa's Deficit Reduction Action Plan.
"Inmates who have not reported for work and/or program assignments have the right to peaceful protest," said Correctional Service of Canada spokesman Jeff Campbell. "Those who do and decide they're not going to participate will receive no pay for their programs or work assignments."
'They make it so difficult for inmates to talk to their families when the (prison) wants us to be there for them when they get out' -- wife of Stony Mountain inmate
Before the cut, inmates had been getting from $1 to $6.90 per day as an allowance for taking part in programs and for doing jobs at Stony, he said.
"This isn't treat money. You can't even call it a savings as it will simply mean that inmates will have less to spend at the commissary," said Kate Kehler of the Manitoba wing of the John Howard Society.
It will make maintaining contact with support systems in the community even more difficult, she added.
Federal inmates at Stony are staying in their cells except to shower every two days to protest pay cuts and price hikes, said the wife of one inmate.
The medium-security prison north of Winnipeg has hiked the cost of nicotine gum and phone calls to family members -- two things vital to keeping the peace, said the mother of two small children who lives in a town in southwestern Manitoba and didn't want her or her husband's name published.
They need the nicotine fix, but the gum is being priced out of their reach, she said. "They're going insane."
She can't see how the inmate pay cuts will be cost-effective or corrective.
"They're the cooks. They deliver the food. They clean up and wash the bathrooms," she said. If inmates stay in their cells, "the whole place stops running."
If the federal government has to hire replacement workers, it will have pay them more than $6.90 a day, she added.
A phone call home used to cost 11 cents a minute, but now costs the inmate about $6 for half an hour, she said. With two small children to support, she can't afford collect calls from her husband, but will accept them because she doesn't want to lose contact with him.
"If inmates can't talk to their families, they'll start forgetting about them," said the woman, whose husband was working toward getting his high school equivalency before the Stony inmates strike began.
"I understand they're criminals," she said. "But they make it so difficult for inmates to talk to their families when the (prison) wants us to be there for them when they get out."
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney issued a statement that said: "Prisoners walking off their jobs is offensive to hard-working, law-abiding Canadians.
"Prisoners are learning how to become contributing members of Canadian society, often for the first time in their lives."
The incentive allowance for inmates in Manitoba jails ranges from $2.20 to $4.70 per day, a spokeswoman said.