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Report Recommends Re-Opening Prison Farms

Prison Farms, Kingston, OntarioOur readers were loud and clear when they called last August’s closure of the prison farms at Pittsburgh and Frontenac institutions both disgraceful and undemocratic.  Subsequently, there was little surprise when the fiasco was crowned Kingston’s most significant headline of 2010.  While the livestock have been gone for quite some time, recommendations from a recent report by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) are terribly bittersweet.  According to the report on Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System, SECU recommends that Correctional Service Canada restore the prison farm program, as it is an excellent rehabilitation tool. Specifically, the recommendations and justification reads as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 59

That Correctional Service Canada increase the use of craft rooms and workshops and expand the range and number of creative, recreational, arts and music programs as well as other therapeutic programs.

The offenders who took part in the Committee’s study reported very positive experiences with some CSC programs. Some noteworthy programs brought to our attention included those based on animal therapy such as the Horses as Healers program at the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, located in the Necaneet First Nation, in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, and the farm prison program currently offered at six correctional facilities operated by CSC.[132]

Research shows that attachment to an animal has an overall favourable impact on the person physically, psychologically and emotionally.[133] Programs based on animal therapy can reduce depression and anxiety, develop self-esteem, and assist in the learning of compassion and various social skills including respect for others, discipline and a sense of responsibility. In the correctional setting, interaction with animals can also be a calming influence for inmates and staff, fostering an atmosphere that is more relaxed and conducive to rehabilitation. The results of an evaluation of the dog training program at the Nova institution for women showed that it: “builds the offenders’ self-esteem, produces positive changes in the institutional environment, and changes the community’s perception of women inmates at Nova Institution.”[134]

A literature review conducted by CSC concludes that animal therapy programs not only help participants by improving their behaviour and learning about discipline, as well as their sense of cooperation and respect for others; they also help the staff of correctional institutions since the presence of animals makes the atmosphere more relaxed and encourages communication among inmates.[135] Finally, society as a whole would benefit from these programs since the participating inmates would learn skills that would serve them well in the labour market and would reduce the rate of recidivism.[136]

Animal therapy programs have proven effective and all participating inmates believe that these programs have undeniable benefits at the human level. For this reason, the Committee has difficulty understanding why CSC decided to terminate the farm prison program at penitentiaries by March 31, 2011. Like many of our witnesses, the Committee is convinced that CSC is on the wrong path in this regard and maintains that CSC should actually increase the number of programs based on animal therapy.

In view of these considerations, the Committee recommends:

RECOMMENDATION 60

That Correctional Service Canada restore its prison farm program, which is an excellent rehabilitation tool, also serving as animal therapy.

On one hand the recommendations provide further justification for the rehabilitative qualities of the prison farm program. That said, they do little to silent shameless opponents who were more concerned with whether or not the farms were generating revenue, or whether former inmates went on to seek employment in the agricultural sector. At this late stage in the game, I feel as though SECUs report pours salt in the fresh wounds of Kingstonians and Canadians who passionately fought to keep inmates gainfully employed while serving out their sentences.  As much as I’d like to be wrong on this, I sincerely doubt that the report will cause the return of livestock or the restoration of our local prison farms.  Much to the chagrin of developers.

What do you think? Is it too little too late for round two of the save our prison farms campaign, or are you still hopeful that the cows will come home.  Could SECUs supportive recommendations be a catalyst to help launch an independent review of the prison farm program? How will the government’s tough on crime agenda, specifically in relation to the prison farm closures, play out in the next battle for the local federal seat? I for one would love to hear Kingston’s Conservative representative try to justify the termination of a rehabilitative program that worked.

Special thanks to mayme for today’s photo.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

6 thoughts on “Report Recommends Re-Opening Prison Farms

  • January 5, 2011 at 12:47 am
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    Agreed. It won't be coming back.

    Sports analogy. Once a team leaves a town, it is very hard to replace it. Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques, etc.

    And in the big scheme of federal politics this issue is small potatoes. No pun intended.

    • January 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm
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      Sure, the closure of 6 prison farms may be far from the forefront of burning issues that are being debated in Ottawa, however when it comes to local politics, it's still on the minds of many. While there will undoubtedly be other important issues that will creep into the campaign literature of Kingston's representatives, politicians who have shown and continue to attack this issue will obviously attract like-minded supporters. Again, it will be interesting to see how our PC hopeful tries do justify the closure in spite of recommendations and supporters. How much airtime it receives also depends on when the election is called.

  • January 5, 2011 at 1:21 pm
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    With the minority government the standing committee is 50% opposition members. They are fulfilling their role in opposing what the government does. Should the Liberals win I'm sure they will get right on reversing the prison farm closure…right after they deal with past pledges on such things as canceling free trade and scrapping the GST, both of which they changed to not only supporting but expanding once in power.

    The party in power changes, the department staff, facts, reports and studies do not. Hence very few decisions are changed despite the "outcry" of the opposition as the decision made is almost always the correct on

    • January 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm
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      So you think the decision to close the farms was made on some credible and rational grounds based on independent studies, do you? Not on opportunist, political grounds? Perhaps you could point me in the direction of the 'facts, reports and studies' which would support the closures then. I've not read anything convincing, in fact the research tends to show that prison programs that involve working with animals and growing food are amongst the most effective in preventing recidivism and generating the kinds of sense of self-worth and responsibility that are most helpful in reforming criminals.

      But what do I know? I'm just a researcher who does stuff on crime and justice…

      • January 10, 2011 at 12:19 pm
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        Would you happen to have a link to the research regarding prison farms and recidivism? Not contesting the claim, rather I can't seem to find it anywhere, and just want to take a good look for myself.

  • January 16, 2011 at 7:38 am
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    Me too! Also background info from when the prison farms were started.

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