More than 30 dairy cows now part of the prison farm program in Kingston

Click to play video: 'Dairy cows to be part of prison farm program in Kingston'
Dairy cows to be part of prison farm program in Kingston
Corrections Canada plans to have the prison farms back in operation by the spring of 2019. They will have cows and goats as part of the program at Collins Bay and Joyceville Institutions – Jun 21, 2018

The cows are coming home to Kingston’s two prison farms at the Collins Bay and Joyceville Institutions.

It’s a long time coming for advocates of the program. The former Harper government shuttered the initiative back in 2009, sparking outcry from the public — and the creation of a group called “Save the Prison Farms.”

Jeff Peters, a farmer from the Kingston area, has been fighting this from the start.

“If you fight long enough and you have a following of people that are dedicated to the cause, you will win,” Peters said. The battle has been brewing ever since the program was cancelled. In August of 2009, hundreds of protesters blocked the removal of dairy cows, with several being arrested by police.

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“It definitely had to have a change of government,” Peters said. “This government believed in rehabilitation, but more importantly they believed in consulting with stakeholders.”

Mark Holland, MP and parliamentary secretary for Ralph Goodale, was on hand to deliver the news to people at the Joyceville Institution. Holland, who says he was devastated to hear when the farms were closed, claims the people have spoken.

“To me, that is a great representation of democracy,” Holland said. “Something was shut down, the community came forward and fought for it tirelessly.”

Mark Gerretsen, MP for Kingston and the Islands, was also on hand. It’s his hope that with the reopening of the prison farms, they can expand the program once again.

WATCH: The cows may not be coming home to prison farms in Kingston

Click to play video: 'The cows may not be coming home to prison farms in Kingston'
The cows may not be coming home to prison farms in Kingston

“This is where it’s starting,” Gerretsen said. “We’re always looking at new opportunities into the future and I think it’s a matter of assessing this in a couple of years.”

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One thing for sure is that advocacy groups will be keeping watch to ensure the prison farms are here to stay.

“We want to make sure the commitment they have given us today is followed though,” Peters said. “They know who they’re dealing with. If something got in the way, I wouldn’t stand idly by.”

On Thursday, the federal government laid out the details of the plan for the two Kingston-area prison farms. They will be home to both dairy cows and goats. The Liberals already announced the prison farms would reopen earlier this year, but only using goats for milk production. Holland says they recognized the cows were also needed for the experience.

“We know the dairy herd was an important part of what had been happening here on the prison farms previously,” he said.

Holland tells CKWS it was also thanks to research that helped them realize there was a real need for the initiative. “I heard from inmates who came out of the program, the correction officials who worked in it about just what a great job it did, and [it] made no sense when it was shut down,” Holland remarked.

Corrections Canada says more than thirty dairy cows will be brought to the prisons, with the goat operation built over time. They say the program will also include agricultural and horticultural activities, allowing inmates to learn life-long skills to carry with them. CEO for Corrections Canada Kelly Hartle says there will be several things offenders can take part in on the prison farm.

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“Our offenders will be involved in helping with land maintenance, repair, crop production as well as the infrastructure in buildings,” Hartle said.

55-year-old Shaun Shannon is a former inmate at Frontenac Institution. He has been a strong advocate of the prison farms program, even after he was released. Shannon says without programs like this, he wouldn’t be who he is today. “Before I went to Frontenac, I was broken, and it fixed me, Shannon says. “You get a connection with the animals, and you learn there’s other things worthwhile out there and you learn responsibility. You’re responsible for a life.”

Officials hope to have the program back in operation by next spring.

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