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Horses helping to reduce reoffending among prisoners

Results from one charity show a 27 per cent point reduction against predicted reoffending among young people in custody.

Working with horses can significantly reduce reoffending among high-risk, violent prisoners, according to a charity's latest research.

TheHorseCourse, based in Dorset, has worked with more than 70 men and women in four UK prisons, with results showing their methods are nearly three times more effective at reducing reoffending than others.

An evidence review commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and published by CLINKS and New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) focused on the first 25 participants in the scheme at HMP Portland.

In the 12 months after release, the reoffending rate was 36 percent - 27 percent lower than predicted. In real terms, between six and seven young people who were expected to reoffend did not.

"The results are all the more impressive for the fact that prisoners taking part in TheHorseCourse complete the course in just one week of intensive activity with specially trained horses and are chosen from the most difficult to reach candidates," said founder Harriet Laurie.

The course - which teaches participants about animal husbandry and horsemanship - is targeted towards those who have a high risk of reoffending, who have struggled with verbal interventions and who may be disruptive and disengaged.

Comprising seven two-hour sessions for two participants at a time, the course lasts between four and seven days and takes place within prison grounds.

As well as the reduction in reoffending, statistics from HMP Portland showed that for participants in custody there was a 74 per cent decrease in adjudications and a 72 per cent decrease in negative behaviour reports.

The course, which has also taken place at Oakwood, The Verne and Eastwood Park prisons, costs £1,000 per participant to run, compared with an overhead of £2,000 to run a Thinking Skills Programme, the most comparable offender behavioural programme.

Patron of TheHorseCourse, former Education Minister Lord Jim Knight, said that the scheme has proved a successful alternative to talk-based and activity-based interventions which do not suit all prisoners.

"TheHorseCourse is a truly innovative intervention that has big, proven impacts with the most difficult people - using a carefully designed programme to make best use of the action-learning opportunity."

As well as working with young people in custody, the course is being piloted in the community, reaching those who are at risk of offending as well as those having trouble in school.

Photo credit: Waugsberg/Wikipedia