By Christian C., Editor
In late December 2017, Out of Bounds received a presser from Calvin Neufeld of Evolve Our Prison Farms (EOPF), a Kingston-based coalition of citizens united by concerns about animal agriculture’s profound ethical, ecological and health costs. The possible renewal of Canada’s prison farms represents a unique opportunity to transition from animal agriculture to an “evolved” model centered in ethical and environmentally responsible plant based farming.
In 2009, the Conservative government elected to shutter all six prison farms. They based their decision upon evaluations that the farms were too costly to operate, ill prepared to provide modern job skills, and fit well with its “tough on crime agenda”, as they considered the farms “soft” on prisoners. Inmate advocacy groups criticized the move suggesting that the program offered both rehabilitation programming and life skills training as well as producing food for prisons.
The Liberal government has recently shown interest in restoring prison farms to the former model of animal agriculture, specifically dairy and meat production. This form of agriculture is in clear and direct conflict with rehabilitative and therapeutic goals. It is also an inefficient and environmentally unsustainable form of food production. EOPF has persuasively put forward an alternative model of innovative plant-based prison agriculture, which could be enhanced by farmed animal sanctuary as human-animal therapy. This has advantages environmentally, ethically and financially (costing less for the government to implement and operate, while being better aligned with current job market realities).
Over the past year, EOPF has been meeting with government representatives and we have succeeded in getting our proposal officially on the table under consideration at the highest level. This is a critical time, as a decision is anticipated in the coming months. Mr. Neufeld stated, “We believe that prison farms can form the foundation of a better, healthier, more sustainable and more compassionate future.”
In the meantime, EOPF is working hard to raise public awareness of the issues. Animal agriculture is neither ideal nor necessary to prison farms. It fundamentally undermines the rehabilitative process as it involves prisoners in the manipulation of sexuality (forced insemination), the breaking of familial bonds (separating infants from their mothers), and, of course, slaughter. In Kingston, where the government’s initial focus is, there is still an on-site slaughterhouse where prisoners continue to be trained.
Animal agriculture has been flagged by the United Nations as one of the most significant global contributors to climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, pollution, deforestation and soil degradation, where the consumption of animal products is directly linked to a wide range of illnesses including cancer and heart diseases – the leading causes of death in Canada.
Evolve Our Prison Farms is proposing an alternative to the old prison farm model: innovative plant based agriculture (mixed crops, vegetables, fruit and nut tree plantations, greenhouses, permaculture) and farmed animal sanctuary (permanent, non-exploitive care) for any animals brought onto the farms. This has all the benefits (and more) of the old operations, without the drawbacks and conflicts of animal agriculture. As the government deliberates on which model to adopt, the example Mr. Neufeld and his team have proposed creates an allegory for justice. Environmental justice, animal justice, prisoner justice. These farms can do more than just produce food for prisoners. They can form a symbolic as well as practical foundation for a healthier more sustainable and more compassionate future for us all. Prisoners can lead the way to our better future. There is something truly touching and inspiring about that, and the way prison sanctuary exemplifies the crossroads between incarceration and freedom, in both metaphor and literal application.
Evolve Our Prison Farms sees the benefits of “evolved farming” as:
– Rehabilitation and reintegration
– Ecological sustainability
– Secure and healthy food
– Caring and connected communities
– Fiscal responsibility
Regarding the coalition, Franceen Neufeld and her son Calvin, in collaboration with writer and researcher Sue Donaldson of Queen’s University, started Evolve Our Prison Farms. The coalition has grown to include a wide range of supporters across Canada and internationally: farmers, philosophers, environmentalists, animal advocates, social workers, academics, lawyers, former prisoners and more. Even prison abolitionists and Corrections staff find common ground in recognizing the merits of the Evolve proposal. It unifies across personal, professional and political spectrums.
In building a strong evidence based case for the government, EOPF have recruited a number of statements from experts, whose independent research supports our proposal, including criminologists, psychologists, climate change scientists, sanctuary operators and agricultural innovators.
We at OBM firmly support this move and trust that adoption of this model happens quickly. We understand that this is far from a done deal but it is a good news story that we will watch very closely. It is our sincere hope that the Liberal leadership will see to correcting some of the missteps of the previous government, opting for rehabilitative rather than punitive measures.