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Liberals pledge to reopen federal prison farms

The federal Liberal party has committed “a future Liberal government” to reopen six federal prison farms now scheduled for closure.

The party’s public safety critic, Toronto-area MP Mark Holland, on Thursday said the party would “restore the prison farm program and… oppose the building of privatized U.S.-style super prisons on former prison farm lands.”

The six farms operated by the Correctional Service of Canada are based at the Pittsburgh and Frontenac institutions at Kingston, Ont.; Riverbend, near Prince Albert, Sask.; Westmorland, at Dorchester, N.B.; Rockwood, at Stony Mountain, Man.; and Bowden, at Innisfail, Alta.

The federal government’s decision, which went public in early 2009, has since met with vocal opposition, particularly among the members of the National Farmers Union.

The NFU has said the current Conservative administration is ignoring the value of “a restorative approach to justice and a sustainable, local approach to the future of farming and food.”

The Liberals’ new pledge to reopen the farms comes despite the party’s own warning in May that the closures “would likely be irreversible, as land and equipment will be sold for other uses.”

Liberal ag critic and Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter said in July that the current government’s plan for super prisons “has been underway for some time.”

The Tories, he alleged, “knew they needed some kind of justification for closing the farms to acquire the land to build super prisons, so they decided to claim that the work on the prison farms — agricultural work — was worthless.”

“Not acceptable”

While it doesn’t characterize its plans as “super prisons,” the government late last month did announce plans to expand capacity at Bowden, for example, by 96 medium-security beds and 50 minimum-security beds by 2013.

The developments at Bowden were described as part of a longer-term plan to add over 2,700 beds at men’s and women’s penitentiaries across the country “over the coming years.”

In a release Aug. 31, Alberta MP Kevin Sorenson described the Bowden expansion as part of “the next step in helping ensure that criminals serve sentences that better reflect the severity of their crimes.”

For example, he said, a “violent criminal sentenced to nine years in prison could potentially be on our streets in as little as three years if he or she spent two years awaiting trial. This possibility is not acceptable to Canadians… Part of keeping our communities safe is keeping dangerous criminals behind bars — not releasing them onto our streets early.”

In Kingston, Holland said Thursday, “concerned citizens” haven’t been consulted for the past 18 months about the government’s plans for the farms.

“Hundreds of voices who peacefully protested the closure of Kingston’s prison farm and the disposal of its historic dairy herd have been ignored,” said Holland, whose Ajax-Pickering riding is on the east side of the Greater Toronto Area.

New Democrat MPs have also gone on record against the government’s plans to shut the farms.

NDP ag critic and British Columbia MP Alex Atamanenko said last month the federal pens’ farm programs “have received support from local police and municipalities as well as trade unions, farm groups and food security advocates.”

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