Saturday 19 January 2019

Horses to help rehabilitate prisoners for the first time in Ireland in €100k project

Stock photo: Getty
Stock photo: Getty
Castlerea Prison, Castlerea, Co. Roscommon. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

"There's something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."

So goes the famous quote.

And for the first time in Ireland, an Irish prison will tap into this special bond between horses and humans, and a stud facility will be built to help rehabilitate inmates.

Jonathan Irwin, founder of the Jack and Jill Foundation, has single-handedly fundraised a little over €100,000 for a stud facility in Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon.

It is hoped that inmates who are successful applicants onto a course for the care and management of horses will benefit from a special bond with the animal.

Inmate-horse rehabilitation programmes in prisons in the US and Australia have shown that prisoners gain a sense of self-worth, and they complete their sentence with a job skill.

The proposed facility in Castlerea will train inmates to be stable makers, blacksmiths, stud hands, as well as other professions, it is hoped.

Jonathan Irwin (76) told the facility has been a dream of his for the last 30 years, since he heard about it at an international horse sale in Syracuse in New York state.

“It’s been proven in Australia and New York that the rate of reoffending drops hugely.”

“At the moment they come out of the prison with a medical card, and very often end up reoffending, but this will take the ‘r’ out of the revolving door in prisons.’

 “Every animal encourages great emotional connection. It will teach them all forever how to look after a horse. It’ll be a real lesson into that skill.”

“A lot of prisoners, there’s a very large section that are not through and through bad. You and I have made mistakes and we’ve managed to correct them because we have families and friends behind us, supporting us. These boys and girls did make a mistake, and the hand of the law got on their shoulder and they landed in a cellar.”

 “It very much depends on them (the prisoner) but they have the chance to break free and not only get on the social ladder again, but the commercial ladder.”

 “In Australia I believe one of the problems is that an awful lot of the lads have asked can they take the horses home with them when they leave,” he joked.

Mr Irwin said he hopes that the facility can be built by the end of the year. The Irish Horse Welfare Trust Wicklow (IHWTW) will be involved in the management of the facility.

This week, Mr Irwin met with politicians this week to brief them on the new project along with Sharon Power from the IHWTW and Fergal Black from the Irish Prison Service.

“I wrote to every single Justice Minister over the years saying I thought this was a cracking idea, we should get it in here. I think most of them thought I was a fruit and nut. The last one I wrote to was Frances Fitzgerald and she obviously thought it was a good idea and she put me in touch with the Irish Prison Service.”

“They couldn’t have been more helpful. I’ve been working with a director called Fergal Black and he’s been amazing.”

“I had to get a recognised team to come in as the equine managers, so I chose the Irish Horse Trust. The deal was that I had to raise €100,000 so that the boxes could be built… I’ve beaten bushes and trees and nettles and I’ve got over €100,000 now.”

He added: “Nothing is always agreed all-party. They told us I want you to know the government is 100pc behind you. TDs and Senators from every colour of the rainbow came out to support it.”

“I’ve been trying to give birth to it for 30 years, and it’s finally coming to fruition.

Sharon Power told that rescued and rehabilitated horses will be housed at the facility.

The online course, which prisoners will be able to sit as part of the programme, will centre around the care and management of horses.

“It’s been developed for adults and young adults with a range of abilities. There are eight key modules about management, feeding, first aid, diseases, hoof care, and stable management. There’s a quiz at the end of every module, and the course is certified by us.”

“We have a very good partnership with industry bodies, and we hope to be able to assist them in finding suitable workplaces and potential employment.”

“The facility will cater for ten or 12 horses, supplied by us. They’ll be rescued and rehabilitated horses.”

A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said discussions are ongoing about the project.

"It's something we're very interested in."

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