Canada to shut down six prison farms
Inmates working. Photo By Marc Vasconcellos.
Save Our Prison Farms
This new Save Our Prison Farms website has been set up by the national campaign team to respond to growing public concern over the immanent shut down of Canada’s six prison farms. We believe that our government will reverse its misguided policy decision as it continues to discover that the vast majority of Canadians of all political stripes support this productive, cost effective, rehabilitative farm-based program.
Canada’s six prison farms are located at,
• Pittsburgh and Frontenac Institutions in Kingston, Ontario
• Westmorland Institution in Dorchester, New Brunswick
• Rockwood Institution in Stoney Mountain near Winnipeg, Manitoba
• Riverbend Institution near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
• Bowden Institution in Innisfail near Calgary, Alberta
On February 24, 2009, the Kingston Whig Standard broke the story that Correctional Service of Canada would be shutting them down over the following two years. The wheels are in motion to dismantle them.
Why save the prison farms
1) PUBLIC SAFETY
The hundreds of inmates working in the farm program learn employment and trade skills such as agriculture (which includes a diversity of tasks such as plant and animal care and crop rotation planning), food processing, equipment operation and repair, metal fabrication, computer skills, inventory tracking, shipping and receiving, etc.
They also learn teamwork, punctuality and reliability. This prepares them for a variety of jobs once they are released. Although Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is denying this fact without producing evidence of employment rates of former prison farm workers. Minister Toews is from Manitoba – he should know that a background in farming is a firm basis for employment in a range of fields. Employment prevents re-offending.
On a personal level, many inmates get used to rising early in the morning, working a full day, co-operating with others, and dealing with animals and the land. Prison staff say these inmates develop better social skills and are less alienated. This makes society safer.
As affordable sources of light sweet crude oil are depleted, it will become increasingly difficult to provide food for our population, including inmates. There is debate about how soon that time will come, but when it arrives, it will be too late to start building a more sustainable food system for the prison population. We wonder how public safety will be affected if inmates cannot be properly fed.
2) HEALTH AND REHABILITATION
The program provides nutritious food for the prison system which has numerous untold benefits in terms of inmate health and their ability to work, educate and rehabilitate themselves.
Farming provides rehabilitation and therapy through working with and caring for plants and animals. The evidence on the positive impact working with plants, dogs, horses, cows and other living creatures, is growing exponentially at present. Based on this, prison farms in New York and New Jersey are expanding their horicultural and animal therapy programs, as documented in the book Doing Time in the Garden: Life Lessons Through Prison Horticulture.
3) SAVE TAXPAYERS MONEY
The Harper government talks about getting tough on crime – putting more Canadians in jail, even when crime rates are going down. To house the surplus prison population, the Tories want to spend billions of tax dollars on new Super Prisons, or “regional complexes”. These have been a tragic failure in the United States. Prison farms cost little in comparison and are much more effective use of our taxes.
The cost to taxpayers and the nutritional value and quality of replacement food must be taken into account in assessing the value of the prison farm program. The recent contract for $1 million of milk for three central Canadian prisons is just a glimpse of the many millions that will be spent replacing the food lost if the farms close.
No clear accounting of the prison farm program has been put on the table. The government insists that these farms are “losing money” – $4 million per year is the unsupported figure given. We have heard that revenue, intended for inmate training on the farms, is not being applied to the program; that there is no budget line accounting for the training and security services that the farm training staff provide; and that expenses incurred in other programs are being allocated to the farms. These claims raise numerous questions:
i) What is the $4 million loss calculation based on?
ii) How much do other CSC training programs cost and lose in comparison to the farms?
iii) How much more will it cost taxpayers if the food needs to be purchased from outside?
iv) If closed, what will be the financial losses to business within the local communities?
v) What will be the costs of decommissioning the farms?
A public investigation is needed to tell Canadians how much the closure of these farms will cost us.
4) SUSTAINABLE LOCAL FARM AND FOOD SYSTEMS
The prison farms provide fresh, regionally-produced food to prisons in their regions. If the farms are closed, this food will be supplied by outside contractors, which, under NAFTA rules, could be in the US or Mexico. This is not a green alternative.
Local feed and farm service businesses and abattoirs are supported by prison farms. The prison farms do not compete with local farmers. Quite the opposite is true – they help to keep farm service businesses open and thereby make it possible for local farmers to access their services as well.
The prison farms make important local donations that enhance regional food security, such as thousands of dozens of eggs per year to the Partners in Mission Food Bank in Kingston, Ontario.
Closing the program would make valuable farmland vulnerable to being sold and developed. As an example, at the Frontenac Institution in Kingston, Ontario, approximately 80% of the 772 acres of land being farmed is class 2 and 3 soils (i.e. prime agricultural land). This farm is within an urban area that is home to over 100,000 people in a region where such high quality farmland is scarce.
In addition to farmland, there is considerable farm and food system infrastructure located on these farms which would be lost to the prisons, and to the broader local food systems of each prison. Examples include facilities such as abattoirs, feedlots, egg laying barns and grading equipment, dairy barn and milk processing equipment, greenhouses, cold storage and composting equipment.
5) A MODEL OF CANADIAN VALUES AND HERITAGE
Canada’s correctional goal is to rehabilitate inmates for their re-entry into society. This is why we call it “Corrections Canada” not “Punishment Canada”. This speaks to Canadian values. The idea of forcing trust-worthy, hardworking minimal security inmates off the farms and back into their cells goes against Canadian values.
Despite former Public Safety Minister Van Loan’s claim in parliament on April 28, 2009 that “the prison farms are set up on a model of agriculture that really reflects the way it worked in the days of the old mixed farm in the 1950s”, the farms are diversified, well equipped and highly respected for their productivity. For example, the dairy herd at Frontenac Institution is one of the most productive in the country, with over 60 years of genetic history.
Prison authorities from around the world have visited Canada to see how our prison farms work. Delegates from Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Hungary, and England have come to tour these prison farms as a model to be copied around the world.
Most concerning is the prospect that these closures may be part of a long-term agenda to shut down all farm and on-site food services and move towards the outsourcing of services, and the privatization of Canada’s prisons based on the U.S. model.