General Superior Sr. Pauline Lally speaks with a Corrections Canada official during a noon hour demonstration at Pittsburgh Institution.
BY CHRISTINE ROSS
Farmers, religious and social groups have formed a national campaign to try to prevent the closing of Canada’s prison farm program.
Over the last few months, campaign members, including the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, have stepped up their campaign by setting up information pickets and noon hour barbecues outside the prison farms at Pittsburgh and Frontenac Institutions.
Inmates involved in the century old farm program are educated on everything connected to operating a farm, including modern machinery and working with dairy and beef cattle and poultry. The food produced on these farms is used in the local Federal Penitentiaries. Surplus eggs are donated to Kingston’s Partner in Mission Food Bank.
The closure will have a big impact on Kingston’s ability to purchase local beef. Pittsburgh’s abbatoir, operated by Wallace Beef, is the only abbatoir that wholesales back into the community between Kingston and Toronto.
“In my grocery store, I try to source as many products locally as possible and have been successful, due to Wallace Beef, in stocking up to 90% local meats, depending on the week,” says Gib Grant owner of John’s deli. “This is what my customers want. If Wallace is closed by Corrections, I have zero options for purchasing local beef.”
“This is about inmate rehabilitation and our local food system,” says Bridget Doherty of the Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation office with the Sisters or Providence. “Anyone who takes the time to speak with an inmate working on these farms, soon realizes that the loss of these farms will have a profound effect on the healing process.”
The government estimates that the prison farm system is losing $4 million a year, and is an outdated experiment.
But Diane Dowling, Vice-president, National Farmers Union in the Kingston area disagrees.
“Our government seems to know the cost of the prison farm without really understanding its value,” she said.
Sr. Pauline Lally expressed her concerns during a meeting with Ross Toller, Regional Deputy Commissioner (Ontario). “Why are you stopping something that is working economically, emotionally, socially and sustainably?” questioned Sr. Pauline.
There are six prison farms across the country – two in Kingston and one in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.