Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety a great success

Presentations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety were by all accounts very successful. Of note, John Edmunds, National President of the USGE, John Leeman, former inmate and graduate of the prison farm program, Bill Flanagan, Dean of Law at Queens University, all hit home runs in an concerted effort to convince the Committee members to return to Parliament a review of the shortsighted decision to close the prison farms.

John Leeman, a former inmate and graduate of the prison farm program, presented a very personal account of his own experiences on the prison farms, explaining that he was there to speak on behalf of the inmates, current and former, who did not want the farms to close.

The Government’s main argument to closing the farms focuses on providing other trade options to the inmates, so that they can then further their training to get their tickets in specific trades. However the Government is not forthcoming with its financial data, nor with its actual plans; it’s all smoke and mirrors. Leeman brought up the fact that the prisons had quite a number of trade options, but that successive governments had worked to erode those programs, to the point that only the prison farms were now available. The Government is not being forthright with their financial data, nor with their actual plans. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Bill Flanagan’s presentation pinpointed the Canadian way of dealing with inmates, that is, to focus on corrections and rehabilitation, not simply punishment. Statistics cited showed that crime rates have been steadily declining over the past few years, but now with the current Government’s “law and order” agenda and the growing range of mandatory sentences, prison populations are projected to grow 10% in the next few years. As well, the budget for CSC is expected to rise by 27% in the next two years to over 3B$ with a 25% increase in employees. it is seeing the program as not being cost-effective since few inmates find work in the agriculture or horticulture sectors upon their release. Flanagan was not persuaded by the Government’s rationale. explained that, after examining the issue and the Government’s approach towards the farms, their purpose was driven not by money, but rather by ideology and has little to do with cost-effectiveness. He believes that, with the apparent increase in budgetary funds to the CSC, the Government is showing that it is ready to needlessly throw money into the prisons, but not willing to provide a a humane program for inmates to learn necessary life skills that will better help them adapt to life upon their release.

John Edmunds’ presentation made the point that USGE has been asking for many months to get financial information from the Government and was consistently being shut down. The Government appears to be hiding behind its classification of such documents as ‘Cabinet’ and therefore, not for public consumption. There are too many questions that remain unanswered: where is the Government spending its Corrections funding? What is the actual cost involved in providing the farm programs at the institutions? What will the loss of the farms cost CSC when they will need to go to outside suppliers to provide food? What will happen if there is an emergency, the institutions go into lock-down and outside suppliers cannot get on the grounds to deliver? Edmunds asked the Committee to get up and ask these questions for which the USGE cannot get answers.

It was obvious that the presentations started to make progress towards the Committee understanding the importance of the farms to the employees, the inmates and the general population. The meeting ended with a notice of motion being filed for the next meeting.

All in all, a great day for the prison farms!