Institution promoted as a labour source

Most Central Albertans probably pay little attention to Bowden Institution when passing the medium-security prison just off Hwy 2.

Most Central Albertans probably pay little attention to Bowden Institution when passing the medium-security prison just off Hwy 2.

But with the region’s labour market tightening up, business operators might want to take a closer look.

Bowden Institution is one of 31 Correctional Service Canada facilities in which CORCAN — a rehabilitation program that gives inmates work-related skills and training — operates. Participants work in a job-like setting, producing real products, punching a time clock and earning nominal pay of $5.25 to $6.90 per day.

At Bowden Institution, CORCAN focuses on manufacturing and textiles, said Shirley Moen, the program’s operations manager there. In addition to a cabinet shop and metal shop, there are facilities for doing upholstery, painting and finishing, and warehousing.

CORCAN’s primary customers are the Canadian Department of Defence, Human Resources Development Canada, the RCMP and Correctional Services Canada, said Moen. But the program can also work with private sector organizations, she said, pointing out that Correctional Service Canada’s Drumheller and Edmonton institutions have entered into such relationships.

“We would like to look at one, absolutely,” she said of the Bowden program.

In this regard, CORCAN has arranged for members of the Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Association — of which CORCAN is a member — to tour its Bowden facilities on Feb. 16. Those taking part will learn about partnership opportunities: arranging for CORCAN to perform piece work or produce products for them, or tapping into a source of skilled labour as CORCAN workers leave the prison system.

Preparing inmates to integrate into society is the program’s primary objective, said Moen.

“They need to have the work skills and the work ethic,” she explained, pointing out that many lack these attributes when entering prison.

Those taking part in CORCAN can receive training in a variety of areas — from forklift operation to carpentry — and even accumulate hours towards trade apprenticeships. They are required to complete a number of workplace safety courses before joining the program, and have access to other courses, like oilfield safety.

Any supply deal struck with a private sector partner would involve a reasonable price, said Moen, explaining that CORCAN does not want to be seen as competing unfairly with others in the market. Prospective contractors must also realize that CORCAN’s facilities are subject to unexpected temporary closures, she added.

“If they need something on a timeline, we can’t always meet that timeline.”

Businesses that do use CORCAN’s services tend to have a strong “social conscience,” she said.

Inmates taking part in CORCAN are usually eager to learn and develop employable skills, said Moen. Once discharged, they receive help from community employment co-ordinators with such things as finding and retaining a job.

Bowden Institution houses about 640 federal inmates. In addition to its medium-security facilities, it operates a minimum security annex.

Anyone interested in learning more about the CORCAN program and partnership opportunities for employers can contact Moen directly at 403-227-7311 or by email at