Prison farm supporters stood their ground until the cows came home

The group Save Our Prison Farms has held a vigil in Kingston, Ont., every single Monday for the last eight years after the federal government cancelled the prison farm program. Earlier this week was their last.

New federal funding revived the inmate work program after it was cancelled in 2010

Protesters have held weekly vigils outside the Correctional Service Canada regional headquarters in Kingston, Ont., since 2010, when the previous Conservative government cancelled the prison farm program. They held their last one this week. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

The group Save Our Prison Farms has held a vigil in Kingston, Ont., every single Monday for the last eight years after the federal government cancelled the prison farm program.

Earlier this week was their last.

Over 100 people — and a few animals — gathered one final time to share "lots of hugs, lots of happy faces," said group member Dianne Dowling on CBC's All In A Day.

"[It's] a victory for community support, the hundreds of people that would come out to events, would write letters and petitions, make phone calls."

Dianne Dowling, left, is an organic dairy farmer who works with the prison farm program. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

The prison farm program — aimed at rehabilitating inmates by providing them with work experience — was cancelled in 2010 by the then federal Conservative government.

The Liberals, elected in the 2015 election, announced funding to reinstate the program this year.

Two farms at Kingston's Collins Bay and Joyceville Institutions are now expected to reopen later this year or in 2019.

At the time of its cancellation, Dowling and her group protested outside of Collins Bay Institution, intending to block the removal of the cows in August of 2010.

Nine people were arrested for mischief, and the cows were eventually removed.

"It basically signalled the closing of the program," Dowling said. Her group held vigils at the same location every week since.

Will now provide classes

Now with the farm's resurrection seemingly secure, Dowling is shifting the focus of the group from saving the prison farms to offering education to prisoners.

"We're working on a lot of other — you might say smaller — aspects of agriculture, to offer variety and offer lots of choices," she said.

In addition to standard crop and animal farming, Dowling said they will also provide gardening and beekeeping classes.

Learning a variety of different skills will help inmates rehabilitate, she said.

"It's important for them to build a resumé."

Eight years after the closure of Kingston's prison farms, members of the group Save Our Prison Farms will be keeping vigil no longer. 10:37