Two years ago, the Canadian government saw fit to close every prison farm across the country. Without any clear reasons, the prison farms located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, two in Ontario and one in New Brunswick, were to all be obsolete by mid-2011. It is now mid-2011, and the farms are gone, as promised. Regardless of public outcry, thousands of letters and emails against closing the prison farms, pleas from Councils, anger from farmers, ‘save our farms’ organizations, and people literally forming a human chain in protest, regardless of all of this and more, no apparent impression was made on the government’s decision – it wavered not one bit.
Its main, albeit limp, arguments for closing down the prison farms were 1) lack of benefit, and 2) cost to taxpayers. The government wants us to believe that one of the reasons they are shutting down prison farms is because it will save us, the taxpayers, $4 million. Big deal. We forked out over $1 billion for security to host the G-8 and G-20 summits in Toronto and Huntsville last year, and nobody felt bad for us then. I believe it’s worth $4 million to keep prison farms running for the simple reason of sustainable agriculture where it is obviously needed.
The federal government’s decision to shut down all Canada’s prison farms seems to throw mud in the face of the mass movement toward sustainability. Why halt a system where inmates have to work to feed themselves so we don’t have to? In Kingston, the farm operation supplied milk and eggs for themselves and to surrounding prisons. Since the closures, a bid to supply milk to three central Canadian prisons will cost just under $1,000,000 per year, (that’s just milk, remember) lending a glimpse at what the real cost to taxpayers might be to replace the food that was grown on the farms.
Those in prison need to learn different skills in order to succeed when they get out, says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, going on to claim that less than 1% of inmates working on prison farms find agricultural work upon their release. This is hardly a yardstick with which to measure the success of skills learned working a prison farm – what about mechanical repair, large machinery operation, teamwork, responsibility, and social skills? We must remember that for some of these inmates, a structured day, caring for animals, feeling part of a team, may be the first such positive learning experience they’ve had. Building from the inside out is imperative for success, prisoner or not; gaining skills, feeling useful, developing a positive attitude and good sense of self (comments from ex-prison farm workers) – are these basic qualities not the very foundation to build on for successful living?
There is talk of job training and psychotherapy and rehabilitation programs, but no one seems to have any information on what precisely these ‘improvements’ are going to be, nor what they will cost. Invariably, what we all want to see is rehabilitation; inmates coming out in healthier states of mind with goals for a better life. Whatever system replaces the prison farms, chances are it’s going to cost more than $4 million.