Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Advocates Encouraged by Government Plan to Reopen Prison Farms

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Advocates Encouraged by Government Plan to Reopen Prison Farms

Article excerpt

Advocates encouraged by plan to reopen prison farms

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Advocates for Canada's prison farm system said they felt wind in their sails on Wednesday after learning the federal government was about to start reviving the program they've been fighting to restore for years.

One of the measures announced in Tuesday's federal budget earmarked $4.3 million over five years to reopen two shuttered prison farms that operated near Kingston, Ont. before their closure in 2010.

The Joyceville and Collins Bay farms were among six shuttered when the then-Conservative government concluded they were unprofitable and ineffective.

Advocates passionately fought for the farms, which operated in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and New Brunswick prior to the shutdown and produced much of the food consumed in the prison system in those provinces.

They argued that inmates working on the farms gained valuable life skills that greatly decreased their odds of reoffending once they had served their time.

One group formed in Ontario even launched a co-operative to purchase some of the dairy cattle from one of the defunct prison farms and paid to house them until they succeeded in their quest to reopen the facilities.

Tuesday's announcement in the Liberal government's budget, they said, makes them feel like they've nearly achieved their goal.

"It's been nine-plus years of lobbying, campaigning, driving the country," said Jeff Peters, chairman of the Pen Farm Herd Co-Op. "Finally, we're getting close. We're only on third base, this has been a long, long game, but we're heading for home."

Peters was an early crusader for the farms, which had operated in Canada since the 1880s until they were axed during Stephen Harper's tenure as prime minister.

At that time, the Conservative government argued the farms consumed more money than they made while conferring minimal benefit on the prisoners.

At a 2010 speech in Toronto, then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews contended that less than one per cent of prisoners who worked on the farms actually went on to find work in an agricultural setting. He argued that rehabilitation efforts ought to be focused on the sorts of environments former inmates would find themselves in once their incarceration came to an end. …

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