PRISON FARMS: The cows are returning to prison

PRISON FARMS: The cows are returning to prison

Postby Oscar » Thu Jul 05, 2018 10:44 am

The cows are returning to prison

[ ... 02018A.pdf ]

—by Tony Straathof, Region 3 Board Member - Quarterly Union Farmer - Summer 2018 - Vol. 24, Issue 2 - Page 15

(PHOTO: "At Joyceville Institution, near Kingston, Ontario on Thursday, June 21, Jeff Peters and cow, Prison Farm Joy, eagerly await the announcement of the re‐opening of the two Prison Farms in Kingston. The dairy operation will begin next spring with both dairy cows and dairy goats." (quotes and info available at: Global News, The Whig Standard, June 21 & 22/18, and Cowsmopoliton))

On June 21, 2018, Mark Holland, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, announced that the new prison farm model will include cows and goats. It has been a long and arduous process to re‐establish livestock at two Kingston area correctional institutes following the 2010 closure of prison farms across Canada. In 2009, the federal government announced the termination of prison farms because it felt that inmates did not develop skills at the farms that translated into jobs upon release. An aggressive campaign was launched by many individuals and community groups, including the NFU, to reverse the decision. The first concrete step to the reverse decision came on February 27, 2018 when the federal government announced it would commit $4.3 million over five years to support the return of a farm operation but with goats as the only livestock.

In June, 2017, an eight member Prison Farm Advisory Panel (PFAP), including three NFU members, was appointed to assist in drafting a proposal for what the new prison farm model would look like. The panel, with expertise from community advocates and farmers, provided non‐binding advice and consultations to Correction Services Canada (CSC). At the time of the 2010 liquidation of the former prison farm dairy herd, a group of community supporters established the Prison Farm Coop to buy back as many of the cows as their finances allowed. This April the herd numbered 33 females. It was always a hope to send those cows back to a re-established prison farm but the February announcement came as disappointment. With the announcement of the re‐opening of the farm in the February 27, 2018 federal budget, the PFAP renewed the call for a cow model to be included with the goat farm. The farm model announced on June 21st is a dairy goat and dairy cow operation. The resulting milk products from the combined operation is tentatively set to be processed at the Fehie Int. plant currently under construction in the City of Kingston.

For the first six months of their mandate, panel members needed to learn the prison system and CSC needed to learn farming systems. It was discovered that the agriculture land owned by the federal government had fallen to neglect and that any revised prison farm needed to contain a land stewardship plan to ensure that the lands were maintained and protected for the production of food. Rehabilitation of inmates back into society at the completion of their sentence is the primary goal of correction services. Inmates themselves need to choose their employment tasks, which is why the new prison farm will have crop production, horticulture, and bee keeping as well as the two animal enterprises. All prisoner labour endeavours also need to be cost recovery or surplus to costs.

From an advocacy perspective much can be learned from the prison farm closure. The government announcement to close the farms came in 2009 and the announcement to re‐open has taken nine years, and it will be another four to five years to be fully operational. From the outset there were protests, information sharing, dialogue and letter writing campaigns. Then came a significant community investment with the formation of the coop to purchase some of the cows. Seven years later came a town hall meeting with politicians and the community to identify what was wanted and what could be provided. In year eight the advisory panel was formed and consultations moved to the board room. A Monday night vigil was held every week for eight years to show the kind of dedication community members had for the cause. In hind sight the protests were a short time frame in the overall campaign timeline. And a successful conclusion is usually achieved with respectful dialogue at the board table.

The most credit for the re‐opening of the prison farms needs to go the many unnamed advocates who protested, wrote letters and contributed their savings to a cause they believe in without expectation for monetary reward. 
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