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Rehabilitating Inmates through Horses

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Work release programs that help inmates transition back to the community and self-improvement are nothing new in the corrections system. Programs in which inmates improve themselves by caring for police horses are rare. Delaware, in fact, may have the only one in the country.

“The Massachusetts State Police have a mounted patrol unit which allows offenders just to care for the barn,” says Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Alison Meadows. “But we cannot locate another unit where offenders play such an integral role.”

When the DSP mounted patrol unit moved from Bellevue State Park in Wilmington to Smyrna in October, its proximity to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center provided an opportunity to partner with the inmates (called “students”) to care for one Shire and five Percheron draft horses. The animals require a tremendous amount of care and upkeep. Meadows, the only full-time trooper assigned to the unit, relies on the help to keep up. “For five to six weeks at a time, students complete 240 hours’ worth of instruction, including feeding, grooming, barn maintenance and outdoor care,” Meadows says.

Steven Mantia, 24, of Newark, feels the work he is doing will help him when he’s released. “It is helping me gain responsibility and integrity,” he says.

The mounted unit started in 2012. Its services are often requested at events with big crowds, such as the Firefly Music Festival, and parades. “The mounted patrol helps bridge that gap between law enforcement and the community,” Meadows says. “The presence of the horses breaks down barriers and entices communication, but it’s their sheer size that can help diffuse situations.”

Jim Hutchins, warden at Center for Violation of Parole at the Vaughn center, says that, as of yet, none of the students has chosen a career working with horses. Meadows says that’s OK. “Just being able to develop skills, feel confident and learn to make better choices is a success,” she says.

State Police Cpl. Joshua Dear trims the mane
of Leo, a member of the force’s mounted patrol unit.

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