'They're a lot like us': Programme pairs inmates, wild horses


November 25, 2016
In this July 15, 2016, photo, inmates Jason MacDonald, (left), Doug Slabbekorn, (centre), and Chris Culcasi practice herding cows with horses in training at the Wild Horse Program run at the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

ELK GROVE, Calif. (AP):

Jail inmates and wild horses are helping each other learn to adapt through a California programme aimed at preparing both for society.

Inmates at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in rural Elk Grove spend 40 hours a week training mustangs that federal land managers gather from overpopulated areas in 10 Western states.

The training programme, south of Sacramento, is one of six nationwide, with the others at the federal level. Sacramento County officials say theirs is the first within a local correctional facility.

The inmates see themselves in the horses as they both learn valuable lessons and skills.

"They're a lot like us," said Christopher Robert Culcasi, 40, who is serving a two-year sentence for auto theft. "You take them from the wild, you herd them up, throw them in holding facilities, take them away from what they know everything they know and then ask them to comply."

auctioned off

Jason MacDonald, 49, said he has been in prison or jail for much of his life, including his current three-year stint for burglary.

"He didn't do nothing wrong, you know?" he said of his horse. "So I've got a compassion for him right off the bat because I feel like he's in jail wrongly accused, you know, and it's my job to get him out of jail."

Five saddle-trained horses will be auctioned off on December 10 by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department programme that began in 2014.

Inmates volunteer and must be approved by a correctional panel before they can work with the horses outside the barbed-wire fences that surround the jail.

They spend four months taming and training the horses. They also built and maintain the holding pens and care for the pastures where the horses graze.

About 15 per cent of inmates who participate in similar programmes at federal prisons commit new crimes, far below the national rate.