The long-awaited return of Kingston prison farms was celebrated at Collins Bay Institution this morning.
Karen McCrimmon, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, officially launched the Correction Service of Canada’s (CSC) farm employment program on Thursday, August 15, 2019 at Collins Bay Institution.
The six dairy cattle that arrived on Tuesday, June 4, 2019 watched from under the shade of a tree in the field behind the guest seating area as McCrimmon described the progress made on implementing farm operations and building the dairy cow herd.
In addition to the six cattle at Collins Bay, who are descendants of the original cattle from the original dairy herd at Kingston Penitentiary, the program includes 17 stocker cows at Joyceville Institution, produce crop fields, and 10 beehives each at both Collins Bay and Joyceville institutions. Future plans include the addition of organic produce fields and the arrival of up to 2,000 dairy goats in 2020.
Speaking on behalf of the farm advisory panel, Dianne Dowling described the approximately 1,500 acres between the two prisons as “some of the best farmlands in the Kingston area.”
According to McCrimmon, the Joyceville and Collins Bay farms will provide up to 60 inmates with direct employment jobs, with 20 employment assignments already available between the two sites.
McCrimmon thanked the Kingston community for their consistent support for penitentiary farm initiatives.
“When the farms were shut down almost a decade ago, members of this community were protesting by the side of the road and they never stopped,” she said. “The return of these farms is a testament to the perseverance of this community.
MP Mark Gerretsen spoke about the difference prison farms had made in the lives of Kingston inmates and expressed gratitude to Kingstonians’ advocating for the farms’ return, thanking community members for seeing “the value of integration or rehabilitation so that individuals can be reintegrated into society instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key.”
Kelly Hartle, Chief Executive Officer at CSC rehabilitation program CORCAN, described how the new prison farm model “allows offenders to put into practice some other skills that they’ve learned through their correctional interventions such as time management, working with others, and being in a realistic work environment.”
“The new model is also working to incorporate elements of community and industry partnership,” Hartle said.
Amidst questions on whether the milk produced from dairy goats at Joyceville would be supplying China’s infant formula producer Feihe International, Hartle said that there “wasn’t a link necessarily” between the decision to introduce dairy goats to the prison farms and the recent opening of the Kingston Feihe plant.
“Goat milk was an area that was identified in the government research around an area of growth and opportunity as a whole, not necessarily specific to this plant,” Hartle explained.
Many speakers cited an increased quality of life as well data on the increased likelihood of offenders finding employment upon release, and the decreased likelihood of reoffending among inmates who took part in the prison farm program. When asked why, if not to partner with Feihe, a program that was proven to be successful would be changed from a dairy-cow based operation to one with an overwhelming majority of goats for dairy export, Hartle said they were diversifying the program based on the needs of inmates because “people are complex.”
“We’re looking at a variety of things, we’re looking at different skills for different interests and needs of offenders. We’re looking at market research about the market opportunity,” Hartle said.
In regard to “conversations about specific businesses,” Hartle said she was unable to provide details due to privacy reasons.
“It’s really important for procurement acquisition, that I don’t get into the details,” she said.
Still, the day marked a triumph for many in Kingston and the area that fought tirelessly year after year to have the prison farms reinstated: The day the cows finally, officially came home.