Criminal Law

Prison farms return to give inmates vital job skills

By Staff

The return of prison farms will provide a much-needed boost to the rehabilitation of federal inmates, Toronto criminal lawyer Jessica Zita tells

CBC News reports that the program, run by a Correctional Services Canada division responsible for providing prisoners with job skills, is expected to be relaunched within a year or so after the federal government allocated $4.3 million to the plan in its recent budget.

“I think it’s a great resource to help the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates, in preparation for their eventual release into society,” says Zita, an associate with Hicks Adams LLP.

“Many of these inmates who have been institutionalized for a number of years simply don’t have the skills that are required to rejoin the workforce, and prison farms are very helpful for teaching them discipline, responsibility and teamwork.

“The farms were also recognized as well-run and successful, not just for the benefit of inmates, but economically too,” she adds.

The proposed budget money is slated to go toward the re-establishment of farms at two institutions in Kingston, Ont., which were shut down when former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government ditched the program in 2010. At that time, Ottawa argued the farms failed to demonstrate effectiveness in rehabilitation, according to the CBC.

But Zita says there doesn't seem to have been any replacement brought in.

“In retrospect, there appears to have been a recognition that these farms were useful, and they’re definitely better than nothing,” she says. “Right now, when inmates are released, they have a parole officer, but they’re very much left to their own devices when it comes to adapting to life outside.

“There’s no official segue or transition. These farms provide a good way to help them get into the mode of working, rather than sitting around doing nothing,” Zita adds.

She says she gained some insight into conditions at Canadian penitentiaries during a recent trial in which she acted for an inmate cleared of manslaughter, but convicted of the assault of a fellow prisoner.

“It’s not an environment that is conducive to teamwork or making friends, so to have an opportunity to get outside the four walls of the institution — and the issues and politics that exist within it — is very valuable,” Zita says. “It’s such a benefit to inmates and to society as a whole.”

A member of the Pen Farm Herd Co-op, which bought cattle from the prison farms when they were shut down, tells the CBC the budget funds will initially be used to replace a 50-year-old barn at one of the Kingston prisons.

He’s hoping to have the farm in operation by next winter, starting with 33 cows, before potentially branching out to include chickens, pigs and a colony of bees.

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