A nine year campaign to save the prison farm program at federal institutions paid off today where it counts — in the federal budget.
The national government will invest $4.3 million over five years, beginning in 2018, to support re-opening the penitentiary farms at Joyceville and Collins Bay Institutions in Kingston, Ontario.
In 2010, the previous Conservative government closed Canada’s six prison farms — one in each of the Prairie provinces and New Brunswick, and two within Kingston.
For 18 months, from the spring of 2009 to August, 2010, hundreds of Kingston and eastern Ontario people campaigned to save the program, citing its benefits to inmates and to the community.
“People of all political leanings told us closing the prison farms didn’t make any sense,” says Dianne Dowling, a member of the Save Our Prison Farms (SOPF) committee. “Some people liked the idea that inmates were contributing food to the prison system. Others saw it as good employment training, or as a rehabilitation program, particularly through working with animals.”
“Helping inmates gain employment skills helps them find jobs after they are released, and reduces the chances of them re-offending,” says Jeff Peters, also a member of the SOPF committee. “That makes our communities safer, and benefits everyone.”
Both Dowling and Peters are active members of the National Farmers Union, which endorsed the call for the prison farms to be maintained, and when they were closed, called for their restoration.
“NFU members in the Kingston area have been working for several years to help build awareness of food and farm issues,” Dowling says. “When the news broke that the government planned to close the prison farms, people paid attention — farmers and non-farmers, alike.
“Between the two institutions there are about 1500 acres of farmland, in public hands,” Dowling says. “People asked, ‘What will happen to that farmland if the program is closed?’ People said, “That land could be a major source of food for our region.’ And they came out to demonstrations, public meetings and hearings, and they wrote hundreds of letters, made phone calls and signed petitions.”
In 2016, the Liberal government conducted a feasibility study of the benefits of the prison farm program and held a town hall meeting in Kingston with Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, attending. In the spring of 2017, Minister Goodale appointed a seven members citizens advisory panel for the prison farms, including three NFU members; the panel advised CORCAN and CSC staff on a proposal for restoration of the prison farms that was submitted to the Minister last fall.
The full budget text says the farms are being re-established “to provide federal inmates with training opportunities to acquire new skills, while preparing for employment and successful reintegration and rehabilitation into the community.”
The farms would be run by CORCAN, an agency of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) that provides rehabilitation and employment training for inmates.
To learn more about the campaign to restore the prison farms, come to the NFU-O Convention March 1-2 at the Gerry Masterson Centre in Belleville.
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For more information:
Dianne Dowling, 613-546-0869 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Peters, 613-353-2403