The Arizona Republic reports that the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) at a Florence state prison is bringing about positive changes for participating inmates who work with horses rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management on Arizona’s public rangelands.
Approximately 50 inmates who have completed the program have been released since 2012, and according to program officials, the recidivism rate among them is zero.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the recidivism rate is exponentially higher nationwide, with about two-thirds of released prisoners arrested and behind bars again within three years.
Several of the released Arizona inmates who once participated in the program have found work on the outside with horses, proving that skills gained in the program have practical benefits and life lessons.
The program is run by Randy Helm, a horse whisperer and fourth-generation Arizona citizen who grew up on ranches. Helm tells the Republic that he first began training wild horses more than 20 years ago, and describes the process as tricky but rewarding.
Others in the horse business have only recently started, but find the process just as rewarding.
Kiowa Cranson works in the horse arena at the farm just off County Road 31 almost every afternoon since he started his own horse training business.
For many years, he trained horses at other ranches around the country, but started his own business after 2014.
Various levels of skills are required for the American Quarterhorse Association, where both training and talent are important. These horses have a job, and it is Cranson’s job to show them how to do it.
Just like every dog owner has a responsibility to ensure that their pet gets at least one walk every day, Cranson’s responsibility is to his horses. “It’s like training an athlete of any kind,” he said. “You want them to do their job in a willing way and enjoy it.”
Cranson is not currently involved with WHIP, but the benefits are clearly visible to horse trainers like him, and even to the inmates themselves.
“What I learn from my horses is patience, love and caring, and trust,” said Dashonte Abdul Al-Wakil, who has been serving time the past 18 years for second-degree murder and drug violations. “When these horses first come in, their problem is trust. When I first come into prison, that was my problem.”
The program is still young, but Randy Helm has high hopes and big plans. He said he hopes the 0% recidivism rate among participating inmates holds.
“We ask a horse to yield one thing at a time, not to be rideable immediately, but to be better every day,” Helm said. “We let these horses prove themselves; why can’t we let these inmates prove themselves as well?”