KINGSTON—The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) applauds the formation of a Prison Farm Advisory Panel by Correctional Services Canada (CSC). The panel is a positive step toward the decision to re-open two prison farms in Kingston.
On May 11, 2017, CSC announced formation of “an advisory panel to provide advice about the potential re-opening of penitentiary farms at Collins Bay and Joyceville Institutions. The seven volunteer panel members, including three NFU members, have experience in business, agriculture, corrections, social justice, and employment.
“Prisons are a stark reality of our society, however, they’re also part of our human infrastructure. Helping people connect with important and needed rural skills offered by prison farms only serves the community interest by reintegrating citizens as meaningful contributors. Agriculture not only feeds all eaters; it is the backbone of our social fabric where we learn to all pitch in for a greater good” noted Emery Huszka, NFU-O President.
In 2009, prison farm programs were conducted at six minimum security federal institutions in Canada – two in Kingston and one each in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. When the Conservative government confirmed in February 2009 that the farms would be closed, hundreds of Save Our Prison Farms supporters in the Kingston area campaigned to keep the program. In August 2010, the dairy herd at Collins Bay Institution was sold, effectively ending the program there. About 200 prison farms supporters formed the Pen Farm Herd Co-op, bought 23 of the prison farm cattle, and have maintained these cattle and their offspring since then with the intention of returning the cattle to the farm, should the program be restored.
In June 2016, CSC began a feasibility study to review the decision to end the prison farm program and to consider the possible restoration of the program at the two locations in Kingston. The study included an online questionnaire (almost 6000 respondents from across Canada) and a town hall meeting in Kingston, attended by 300 people.
One of the panel members is Dianne Dowling, president of NFU Local 316 (Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington), and a member of the Save Our Prison Farms organizing committee. “The panel is another step in evaluating the feasibility of restoring the prison farms program at Kingston,” Dowling said. “I am pleased that CSC is providing this opportunity for citizens to contribute to important discussions about how farming can be integrated into rehabilitation and skills training at Collins Bay and Joyceville Institutions.”
In the CSC release announcing the panel, Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said, “I am very pleased that we have established this advisory panel to help us determine the best way ahead for re-establishing penitentiary farms. Thank you to all who participated in the consultations. I am committed to implementing evidence-based practices and policies that promote public safety and the safe reintegration of offenders.”
“Establishing this panel is a positive step toward the restoration of the prison farms in Kingston,” said Jeff Peters, also a member of the advisory panel, chair of the Pen Farm Herd Co-op and a director of NFU Local 316. “I see Minister Goodale’s comment as a commitment to move forward in restoring the prison farms. We remain hopeful that we will see farming back at the prison farms.”
The third NFU member on the panel is Tony Straathof, a livestock, crops, and maple syrup farmer in Renfrew County and a director of NFU Ontario, who commented, “I look forward to working with this dynamic group. The prison farm program was an integral part of prisoner rehabilitation and preparation for re-entry back into society and provided prisoners with the soft skills needed for employment, such as showing up on time, cooperation with coworkers, and completing tasks. Caring for animals also provides a therapeutic effect and may allow inmates to work through issues that led to incarceration.”
Should the farms be restored, they will be run by CORCAN, a rehabilitation program of CSC, providing offenders with employment and employability skills training. The advisory panel will work with community stakeholders to assist CORCAN “to better understand farm industry operations, explore new business ideas, and promote partnerships to provide employment opportunities for released offenders.”
The other members of the panel are: Bridget Doherty, of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul; Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada; Alex Ross, a Kingston school board trustee and vice-president of the board of KEYS Job Centre, Kingston; and Bruce Vandenberg, a goat and sheep farmer and cheese processor in the Lindsay area.
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