The federal government has released details about the relaunch of Canada’s prison farm program, shuttered for nearly a decade.
Beef cows and goats returned to Joyceville Institution in May, and six dairy cows were placed at Collins Bay Institution in June. Goats are expected to arrive at Collins Bay in 2020. Both prisons are located in and around Kingston, Ont.
Inmates have been involved in the work to get the farms up and running again. Work began at Collins Bay in 2018 to prepare the land for crops. Corn, soybean and barley crops were planted at both Joyceville and Collins Bay in 2019.
“It’s very satisfying to see that it’s been restored,” said Dianne Dowling, a member of the national farmer’s union and a founding member of the Save our Prison Farms campaign, which fought for years to see the program restored.
Prior to its closure, hundreds of inmates participated in the program at six institutions across Canada, where they typically providing food including milk and eggs for the penitentiaries as well as community food banks.
Prior to the closure, prison farms in Canada had been operating for more than a century, though over the years the system shifted from forced labour to a rehabilitation program run by CORCAN, a Correctional Services of Canada program that provides inmates with employment experience and skills.
In 2006, the Conservative government commissioned a study into the viability of the CORCAN agribusiness, which recommended phasing out the program in favour of operations offering a better return, like manufacturing.
The 2008 Correctional Employment Strategy report stated: “There is a definite need to become more responsive to changes in the labour market, (…) and aligning the type of training and skills offered with economic demand.”
The Conservative government ended the program in 2010.
Battle over closure
During parliamentary hearings in 2010, prisoner advocates and community organizers pushed against the closure, pointing to research suggesting the programs bolstered work confidence, lowered recidivism, and offered inmates the therapeutic opportunity that comes with caring for animals.
In August, 2010 protesters at Collins Bay tried to stop the trucks from hauling away the animals to auction, leading to a number of arrests.
For a decade, the “Save Our Prison Farms” campaign held regular vigils at the gates of the shuttered farm at Collins Bay, and lobbied the new Liberal government to reinstate the program.
In the 2018 budget, the Liberal government included $4.3 million to restore farms at the Joyceville and Collins Bay Institutions. Minimum security inmates will be allowed to participate in the programs.
Goats and cattle began arriving at the institutions this spring.
In Collins Bay, the half-dozen young Holsteins are descendants of the cows removed from the farm in 2009.
Dowling, who now sits on the government advisory committee steering the renewal of the program, said inmates at Joyceville will get to work with dairy cows and dairy goats.
Both the Joyceville and Collins Bay programs will include land management, horticulture and crop production.
“We’re moving along towards having a substantial program there for inmates to gain work skills and also to benefit from the rehabilitation or therapeutic aspects of farming.”
Karen McCrimmion, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, is expected to speak around 11 a.m. ET today to offer details about when the programs will be operational.