Four farmers named to panel on Ontario prison farms

CSC names advisory panel on Kingston farms' 'potential reopening'

Collins Bay
The Collins Bay Institution at Kingston, Ont. includes maximum, medium and minimum security facilities for up to 720 male inmates. (CSC-scc.gc.ca)

Four eastern Ontario farmers have been named to a new seven-member advisory panel on the “potential reopening” of two federal penitentiary farms at Kingston.

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) on Thursday announced the panel members, who are expected to hold their first meeting next month and to “engage with community stakeholders” on the farms’ possible reopening.

The panel is also tasked with helping CSC’s rehabilitation program Corcan to “better understand farm industry operations, explore new business ideas, and promote partnerships to provide employment opportunities for released offenders.”

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, in a release Thursday, said the new panel is meant to “help us determine the best way ahead for re-establishing penitentiary farms.”

The new panel’s farmer members include Dianne Dowling, who operates an organic dairy and beef farm near Kingston; Jeff Peters, a beef producer at Inverary; Tony Straathof, a mixed farmer in the Whitewater region; and Bruce Vandenberg, a goat and sheep dairy producer and cheese plant operator at Lindsay.

The panel’s other members include Bridget Doherty, of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent De Paul; Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada; and Alec Ross, a local communications consultant, school board trustee and board vice-president for KEYS Job Centre.

CSC last June launched a feasibility study, plus consultations last July and August, to review the previous Conservative federal government’s decision to wind down Corcan’s agribusiness operations.

Results from the consultations, published in November, “will continue to influence CSC’s future decisions related to employment and employability programs offered at institutions,” the department said Thursday.

Participants in the consultations “were asked to provide their input into the possibility of renewing penitentiary farms at Collins Bay and Joyceville institutions” in Kingston.

Collins Bay, which has maximum, medium and minimum security facilities, and Joyceville, a medium/minimum security operation, have combined capacity for over 1,400 male inmates.

“The decision on the future of penitentiary farms is an important one, and (the new panel members’) feedback will be critical in guiding us on how to move forward,” CSC commissioner Don Head said in the same release.

Goodale said Thursday he’s “committed to implementing evidence-based practices and policies that promote public safety and the safe reintegration of offenders.”

CSC had wound down its six prison farms in 2009 under the Tories’ “strategic review” process, in which the service was required to review programs “to ensure that they continued to operate in an effective and efficient manner.”

Groups opposing the end of the prison farm programs included the National Farmers Union (NFU), which at the time said the closures ignored the value of “a restorative approach to justice and a sustainable, local approach to the future of farming and food.”

Dowling, Peters and Straathof all serve in regional executive and/or board positions with NFU-Ontario.

Corcan’s farms had included mixed ag operations at Rockwood (Stony Mountain, Man.), Riverbend (Prince Albert, Sask.), Pittsburgh (Kingston) and Westmorland (Dorchester, N.B.). Bowden, at Innisfail, Alta. ran a mixed farm and composting operation, while Frontenac, also at Kingston, included dairy and poultry operations. — AGCanada.com Network

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