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As Baysville beautifies, prisoners learn a life lesson

In the picturesque Robertson Parkette on the shore of the Muskoka River, work is under way to put the finishing touches on a new bandstand and public washroom, a beautification project the federal government financed in anticipation of this week's G8 summit.

On Wednesday, four men in matching blue shirts, inmates from the nearby Beavercreek Institution, a minimum security prison, were working on the project, laying interlocking bricks along the waterfront in Baysville, a community in the Lake of Bays township 25 kilometres south of Huntsville.

"It's a good way of getting cheap labour," said Don Chevalier, treasurer for Lake of Bays. "They seem to be professionals. They weren't … in chains or anything."

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The prisoners are part of the Beavercreek Community Service Volunteer Group, a program that liaises with the community to find work placements for offenders. The inmates are granted temporary absence with an escort, said Corrections Canada spokeswoman Holly Knowles.

The Baysville Riverfront Group applied for G8 project funding last June and was awarded $275,000 to construct an octagonal bandstand and washroom in the park. It was one of three beautification initiatives in Baysville to receive federal funds tied to the summit, even though Mr. Chevalier said it is unlikely any of the international leaders will visit the town.

Baysville also received money for a heritage plaque and "streetscaping projects" involving welcome signs, landscaping and flower planters for the downtown.

Stuart Barnes, a community services co-ordinator with Corrections Canada, said the inmates' work in the park started about a week and a half ago. He said the program gives offenders at the end of their term a chance to develop new skills and work for non-profit groups around the Muskoka area.

"The more abilities we can teach them, the better," Mr. Barnes said before returning to help the prisoners. He has been running the program for 11 years.

Residents don't seem to mind prisoners working in their tiny cottage-country community. The labour is free, and they don't have any safety concerns.

"Never even think about it," said Jim MacIver, adding that community groups in town also contributed money to the project.

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But Mark Holland, the Liberal Party public safety critic, said it is ironic that a rehabilitation program should be used for a G8 project.

"They're against rehabilitating inmates unless they're in the Industry Minister's riding," he said, referring to Muskoka MP Tony Clement. "At the same time they're cancelling rehabilitation programs in prisons across the country, they're exploiting one to help an MP get re-elected."

Ms. Knowles confirmed that offenders from Beavercreek institution are working on a G8 beautification project.

"We currently have two crews of six to eight inmates who are participating in some form of community service activity in the area," she said.

"Inmates are carefully screened to participate in these kinds of projects. They apply and we do a very careful risk assessment."

The prisoners are not paid.

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"It's about skills and giving back to the community," Ms. Knowles said. "There's a sense of value the inmates can acquire in doing this kind of work. It's about connecting to the community so it really does facilitate the reintegration process."

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Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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