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‘The prices are outrageous’: Concerns raised over monopoly on ordered goods in federal prisons

Federal inmates are allowed to order goods and personal effects through a single catalogue. It’s provided by Prototype Integrated Solutions, a Langley, B.C.-based company that has a monopoly on the prison market. It also provides goods to several other federal departments, including the Department of National Defence and the CBSA.

Hundreds of items are available in the catalogue, everything from clothing, electronics, health and personal hygiene items to sporting equipment, religious goods and hobby supplies. However, the inmate, who resides in a Quebec prison, says the catalogue falls short both in terms of price and quality.

“The prices are outrageous … There’s a guy, he bought a stapler, first time he goes to staple with it, it just falls apart into pieces in his hands,” he told CBC News in an interview from prison.

His identity is being withheld because he is a whistleblower​.

Before the catalogue, which was brought in under the previous Conservative government, the inmate said prisoners were able to buy items by placing an order with an institutional staff member. They would then go to the nearest town or make an order through the mail.

According to Corrections Canada, the catalogue was intended to standardize what was available to inmates, as well as reduce the amount of time staff would spend processing orders and shopping for items.

‘Covers all costs’

In an interview, Ghislain Sauvé, director general of technical services and facilities at the federal agency, said the catalogue brings consistency between penitentiaries across the county, so that inmates in B.C., for instance, can buy and pay the same amount for goods as inmates in Newfoundland.

“It covers all costs, so when you pay for an item it covers everything, delivery, any handling,” said Sauvé

A representative of Prototype Integrated Solutions declined an interview request.

In an email, the company referred questions to Corrections Canada, adding that the contract is the “result of a fair public procurement process.”

Prototype Integrated Solutions takes all the profits on sales, according to Corrections Canada.

Dozens of items more expensive

CBC News obtained a copy of the catalogue that is in effect until the end of March, 2019.

In at least two dozen cases CBC found items in the catalogue that were more expensive for inmates compared to the price the public would pay.

The items include:

  • A Levi’s “trucker” jean jacket was priced at $153.38 plus tax for inmates. A similar styled “trucker” jacket could be purchased online at Levi’s Canadian store for $108.
  • A pair of men’s Run Supreme Reebok shoes is being sold for $136.74 plus tax in the catalogue. A similar pair of “Run Supreme” shoes are available for $90 on Reebok Canada’s website.
  • An Under Armour shower shoe would cost an inmate $67.19 plus tax. On Under Armour’s Canadian website the same shower shoe is being sold for $39.99.
  • A 19-inch LED television is being sold for $237.03 plus tax. A similar television could be bought at Walmart Canada for $103.50.

In comparing the items, CBC attempted to find the exact item described or the most similar item that was available to the public. Many of the items in the catalogue are no longer sold in retail stores.

According to the inmate, one of the worst items to order through the catalogue is music on compact disc. Prototype Integrated Solutions charges a rate of $27.56 plus tax for any music CD.

The inmate says most often a relative can purchase the same CD for half the price, and not have to wait up to six months for delivery.

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