By Bob Gordon

Located in Kingston, Frontenac Institution is a minimum-security federal prison that includes one of six prison farms operated by Corcan, the employment training arm of Corrections Services Canada (CSC). For more than 60 years, inmates have farmed its 360 hectares. The Kingston area is home to a cluster of CSC institutions that benefit directly from the low-cost eggs and milk produced at Frontenac, as do local food banks that receive food donations.

In 1999, Ducks Unlimited Canada – with the cooperation and support of CSC, Environment Canada and the Kingston Wetlands Working Group, a cooperative partnership of 11 organizations and agencies including the Kingston Field Naturalists – initiated the restoration of five wetlands on the property. The project allowed inmates to witness the revitalization of their natural landscape and contributed to the hands-on learning that makes the Frontenac project unique.

In March, CSC announced that the federal government would be phasing out its six Corcan farms across Ontario and the rest of Canada over a period of two years. The government proposes to divert the $4 million or so in operating costs to other training programs. Corcan acknowledges that the Frontenac Institution farm is in the black even if the prison farm program as a whole is in debt. Says Christa McGregor, senior media relations officer with CSC, “We determined that very few ex-inmates were obtaining work in agriculture.”

Whether that is the point of the program, however, is an open question. Critics of the closures, including the Save Our Farms campaign, a group made up of individuals who have worked in the fields with the inmates, argue that agricultural training improves skills that can be transferred to other fields.

The groups protesting the closures hope to persuade Peter Van Loan, Minister of Public Safety (responsible for CSC), to visit Frontenac and review the closure plan before 2010.