Momentum growing to reopen Dorchester prison farm: advocates

Written by Najat Abdou-McFarland on August 10, 2016

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Advocates want the Dorchester Penitentiary’s prison farm to reopen. Photo from Start the Farms Dorchester 2016.

Start the Farms Dorchester 2016 is a New Brunswick-based group hoping to reopen the prison farm at Dorchester Penitentiary, a Canadian federal corrections facility located in the village of Dorchester.

Start the Farms Dorchester 2016 is an advocacy group that is promoting awareness of the positive benefits of the Dorchester prison farm. Prison farms in Kingston, Ontario, Joyceville and Collins Bay, are being considered for re-opening after being closed in 2010 by the former federal government.

Start the Farms 2016 is hopeful the drive to re-open Ontario prison farms will bring about change in New Brunswick.

Dorchester grounds

Dorchester Penitentiary grounds. Photo from Start the Farms Dorchester 2016 Facebook page.

When it was running, the Dorchester farm facility maintained several operations simultaneously. These operations included green houses, honey bee colonies, an egg hatchery, a dairy herd, a beef herd, a piggery, a butcher shop and a distillery for making milk and juice out of their own harvest.

According to Mel Goodland, farmer and former mayor of Dorchester, it was quite a loss to the community when it closed. The facility employed several farm people from the community and the facility regularly donated some of their produce to several community functions.

For 20 years, Vince Zelazny has been involved in the Alternatives to Violence Program at the Dorchester Correctional Facility. Alternatives to Violence is a rehabilitative program to facilitate better relations between inmates.

Zelazny heard several positive comments about the farm from inmates during his time at the prison. The inmates told him that the prison farm helped them to achieve some of their program goals and allowed them to live a more productive lifestyle. Likewise, Goodland has seen firsthand some of these beneficial effects through the interaction he has had on the prison farm.

Community-focused researcher and scholar, Hilary Lyons, has laid out the benefits of empowering, stimulating and self-fulfilling labour in correctional facilities. In general, growing one’s own food allows one to have agency over the nurturing, preparation and consumption of the food in their diet. This is particularly true for inmates who are working to achieve positive control over their lives.

She and others promote rehabilitative labour. What Lyons and others envision is dramatically different from exploitative farm labour, which reproduces existing inequalities and divisions, and fails to equip inmates with usable skills post-release.

Rehabilitative labour benefits include therapeutic effects such as work satisfaction and stress release from working outdoors and developing a positive connection with other living creatures and plants. Rehabilitative labour also involves a personal work ethic of responsibility and diligence and provides inmates with work-ready skills such as problem-solving and teamwork. All of these benefits are in addition to specific vocational skills in farming and animal care.

As for the possible role the Dorchester prison farm might play in the regional economy, Goodland affirmed that there was no competition conflict with other agribusinesses in the region In the past, the majority of the produce was used to supply other correctional facilities in Atlantic Canada. He has received interest from other agribusiness stakeholders in the region in becoming involved in the Dorchester prison farm should it reopen again. He and other interested parties who have spearheaded this initiative are waiting to hear the results from two feasibility studies in Ontario.

Goodland, Zelazny, and advocates are hoping the momentum to reopen the farms will take seed as Canadians learn more about the potential of these types of farms to rehabilitate inmates’ inner and outer lives.

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