A campaign to maintain the Correctional Service of Canada’s six prison farms will make its play for national attention this week, according to participating farm groups.
The National Farmers Union and other groups plan a press conference Wednesday (June 3) outside the fence at the Frontenac Institution at Kingston, Ont., home to one of the prison farms reportedly scheduled for closure within the next two years.
The farms, operated through CSC’s Corcan employment training program, include mixed ag operations at Rockwood (Stony Mountain, Man.), Riverbend (Prince Albert, Sask.), Pittsburgh (Kingston, Ont.) and Westmorland (Dorchester, N.B.) institutions. Bowden Institution at Innisfail, Alta. runs a mixed farm and composting operation, while the Frontenac facility includes dairy and poultry operations.
“The decision by CSC to dismantle the prison farms is short-sighted and wrong-headed,” said NFU Local 316 president Andrea Cumpson in a release Tuesday.
“We are mobilizing support to have the federal government reverse the decision, and to, in fact, revitalize the program, re-orienting it toward sustainable farming and food security for the prisons and for local communities.”
“Inmates in the prison farm program learn farm and food processing skills, as well as employment attitudes such as punctuality, taking responsibility and teamwork,” said Jeff Peters, a director with the Frontenac Cattlemen’s Association, which is also on board with the campaign.
In the two Kingston institutions, inmates produce and process meat, eggs and dairy products for use within the prison system, Peters said.
The reported closure plans were also to include the abattoir at the Pittsburgh Institution, the groups said in their release, but federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said last month the abattoir will continue to operate.
“Many area farmers depend on that abattoir as a way to sell to local people, stores and restaurants,” Peters said. “It is an essential part of our farm and food system, and a critical part of financial survival for local farmers.
“We are pleased that CSC will keep the abattoir operating, but it is part of a bigger picture,” he said. “We see the benefits of continuing and revitalizing the prison farm program across Canada.”
“When prisoners re-enter the community, we are all much better off if they had training and rehabilitation opportunities in jail,” said Bridget Doherty of the justice and peace office of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, in the same release.
“Giving prisoners the ability to feed themselves ensures that they help pay their way, while at the same time gaining skills and preparing them for their eventual return to society.”
Farming provides rehabilitation and therapy through working with and caring for plants and animals, the NFU said previously, adding that the 300 inmates working in the farm program learn “employment skills and attitudes such as agricultural and food processing knowledge, equipment operation and repair, teamwork, punctuality and reliability.”
The NFU questioned what it says are CSC’s claims that the farms program does not give inmates employability skills and that the farms lose $4 million per year. “No clear accounting of the prison farm program has been made public,” the group said.