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BY Djamila Amellal, Communications Officer, Communications and Citizen Engagement
Photos: Bill Rankin
Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines Institution, in the Quebec Region, has introduced a cooking program in which offenders supervised by six Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) employees help produce 2,500 meals (breakfast, lunch and supper) every day. These meals feed approximately 900 offenders housed in the three institutions in this penitentiary complex: the Regional Reception Centre and Special Handling Unit, Archambault Institution and Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines Institution. The cooking program allows offenders to acquire diplomas that will help them find employment on conditional release, thus facilitating their reintegration.
We are inside the largest federal penitentiary kitchen in Canada, at the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines minimum-security institution, where some 40, white-coated and -capped offenders and CSC employees are busy working at huge steaming vats, at a meat counter and in the bakery area. They have been on the job since 5:30 a.m. and will continue until 11 a.m., returning at 12:30 p.m. and going off duty at 1:30 p.m. Today’s menu, created according to Canada’s Food Guide, features pea soup, salmon steaks, plain potatoes, small cakes, juice and a serving of milk.
Head of Food Services Roberto Trubiano, who has been with CSC for 23 years and is himself an expert professional cook, notes, “This institution houses as many as 175 offenders; 45 of them work in this kitchen, and 10 of those workers officially participate in the Cooking Program. The program prepares them for the labour market. In the morning they work in the kitchen, and during the afternoon they take academic courses here at the institution with a teacher from the school board.
“Our chefs have a great deal of experience and we make good use of that pool of expertise. We have an annual budget of approximately $1.2 million for meal purchasing, cooking and delivery.”
According to Georges Flanagan, Assistant Warden, Management Services, and a 22-year CSC veteran, the idea of introducing a program of this type dates back some 15 years.
“We started to get this project going in the 1990s. Wanting to give offenders some skills they could use on conditional release, and having a pool of expertise available in the institution, Warden Jean Luc Gougeon and Unit Manager Josée Brunelle laid the groundwork. The school board was contacted, candidate profiles drawn up, and programs developed. Proponents travelled to institutions to publicize the program and recruit candidates.
“Of course, numerous checks were conducted, particularly in the case of candidates from medium-security institutions. In candidate selection, an offender’s correctional plan, risk evaluation and security rating are all aspects to be taken into account. The program was structured over a period of time to become what it is today. The main objective has always been to teach offenders a trade.”
The Cooking Program was officially launched a year ago. Offenders selected to participate have the option of taking a 390-hour cook’s assistant course, a 435-hour butcher’s assistant course, or a 450-hour course to become a baker’s assistant. “We require program participants to have completed Quebec Secondary III,” notes Unit Manager André Bellemarre. “Participants are trained for a six-month period and earn diplomas that are recognized by Quebec’s Ministère de l’Éducation.”
Cooking Program participants earn as much as $6.90 per day and live in a separate unit. “They earn what the other offenders earn,” adds Georges Flanagan. “What they gain is knowledge.”
Neil Elsmore, Acting Supervisor of Food Services, has worked in this field for six years. When asked whether security is a challenge in a kitchen where a number of offenders handle knives and other tools, he answers, “Even though we handle a variety of tools, there have never been any incidents and I have never felt that I was in danger. My job is to produce meals and to train people. The offenders who participate in the program are carefully selected. They show tremendous interest and are able to learn. And when you treat others with respect, you can only get respect in return.”
A number of offenders on conditional release have been able to find employment in this field. They are proud of their achievements and their participation, which has allowed them to acquire not only cooking training but also many social skills needed to work as a team member and to keep a job. Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines Institution employees agree that the Cooking Program makes a vital contribution to successful offender reintegration. ♦