Prison Farm

These prison inmates grow crops, take care of cattle, make maple syrup and keep bees as a unique form of rehabilitation in Kingston, Ont.
Available on CBC Gem

Prison Farm


Collins Bay Institution is a large, grey, castle-like building on the outskirts of Kingston, Ont. Opened in 1930, it’s now home to a maximum-, medium- and minimum-security prison.

Behind the tall walls that surround Collins Bay, there is also a barn, silos and many outbuildings where minimum-security offenders work on an unconventional kind of reform: farming. Throughout the history of incarceration, work and prisons have gone hand-in-hand, with hard labour seen as part of the inmates’ punishment.

But prison farms in Canada have a different goal, using hands-on work as a key means of rehabilitation and job skills development.

Canada’s prison farm programs started over 100 years ago. In 2010, the former federal Conservative government closed the programs across the country.

After years of lobbying, agricultural activists successfully campaigned to bring the prison farms back to Collins Bay and Joyceville Institutions in Kingston, Ont., where farmland surrounds the prison grounds. The facilities and equipment are state-of-the-art, and the offspring of the original Pen Farm herd have been brought back.

In the video below, the inmates describe what the farm means to them:

Prison Farm follows four inmates — Nato, Chris, Dan and Norm — as they grow crops, work in the community garden, keep bees and harvest honey, make maple syrup, and care for dairy and beef cattle.

Their work with livestock and crops helps them process their crimes and remain accountable, which contributes to their rehabilitation. Produce that’s harvested from the community gardens is donated to local food banks, missions, food kitchens, shelters and the institutions themselves.

Nato, a former bodybuilder, feels that caring for farm animals is one of the ways he is able to deal with the guilt from his crime and give back. The hardship of being away from his 19-year-old daughter weighs on him deeply. As new calves are born on the farm, he confronts both the life he took and his relationship with his daughter.

At 26, Chris is more than comfortable on the farm since he has experience with heavy machinery and outdoor work. He hasn’t seen his four-year-old daughter since his sentencing. She will not see him for the entire duration of his sentence. Bottle-feeding the baby cows allows him to care for something in the absence of his daughter, which is comforting to him.

Dan grew up disconnected from his Métis heritage but has started to reconnect to it while incarcerated. Stripped of his sense of identity, he finds it again by connecting with other Indigenous men. He finds he’s closest with the Creator when he’s out in nature on the farm.

Norm is a charismatic character with the demeanour of an old sailor. He’s serving time for dangerous driving of a motor vehicle, assaulting a peace officer and impaired driving. He says the farm keeps his hands busy and helps him pass the time.

Prison Farm follows the inmates’ journeys through their incarceration, showing their difficulties as well as the benefits of their work on the prison farms. The film highlights important issues around incarceration, shattering stereotypes of inmates, and captures how these offenders have been transformed through this unique rehabilitation process.

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Prison Farm