Ottawa failing on prison farm replacement

Ottawa promised to replace shut down prison farms with programs to better help inmates gain job skills. According to the man in charge of overseeing prisons, nothing has been done since the cattle were auctioned off.

By Annette Francis
APTN National News
KINGSTON, Ont. — Jason Rochon is now dismantling what he believed was once a gateway to changing his life.

Rochon, serving a life sentence at Frontenc Institute in Kingston, Ont., for murder, was one of several inmates who spent hours every day caring for cattle and working with his hands to maintain the Frontenac prison farm.

Now, those days are gone, wiped away by a controversial decision from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, that, despite their Western roots, saw no benefit in prison farms.

“I miss coming out and seeing the animals, seeing them anticipating you coming down and taking care of them knowing that there’s gonna be work, knowing that your times gonna be occupied and that there’s something at the end of the rainbow for it,” said Rochon, a First Nations man who has seven years left on his sentence. “There’s a good feeling when you know you’ve put in a hard days work.”

Now, those animals are gone, auctioned off to local farms.

Rochon said the loss of the farm has been difficult for the inmates who spent up to seven hours every day caring for the cattle.

“There’s a lot of resentment,” he said. “I mean, guys don’t care anymore. They came down and they’re basically gutting these farms. (They’ve) been asked to tear something down we’ve all put a hand in building. It’s sad for us.”

The Harper government said the farms were too expensive to run and the 600 inmates who worked caring for the animals weren’t developing any skills that would help them a real job. The Conservative government, however, is planning to build more prisons.

“Less than one per cent of the prisoners that actually work on these farms are actually able to find employment on farms after they’re released,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, an MP from the farming province of Manitoba. “That is not a very effective way of using government resources. We want to ensure that when prisoners are in prison they are trained for skills and jobs where there is a market for them and that’s what the focus for Public Safety is going to be.”

Rochon said he has yet to see any new skills training programs to replace the farm. Now, he spends an hour a day working to take the farm apart before heading back to his prison cell.

“There’s nothing that’s been in place. There’s been a lot of talk and there’s been a lot of talk … about all these new job and training opportunities at Frontenac and other institutions,” he said. “It’s just been all talk. There’s nothing going on.”

Howard Sapers, Canada’s Corrections Investigator, hasn’t seen anything either, despite spending all his time keeping a close eye on the country’s prison system.

“I haven’t seen any plans yet. Corrections announced that they were closing prison farms because they were too expensive and they were closing them because they wanted to create new opportunities for vocational training and programing,” he said. “I haven’t seen what those replacement programs will be.”

When contacted by APTN National News, Correctional Service of Canada said an announcement would be made on the issue within the next few weeks.

Until then, inmates at Frontenac Institution will continue putting in what they call “wasted time.”

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Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.