Prisoners are now being utilized to train wild horses for the U.S. Border Patrol to ride along the Mexican borders.
These men are part of the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP), where the prisoners take wild horses, rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, and train them for border agents to ride.
The horses are reported to be inexpensive to train, costing between $500 and $800 each, and are essential for patrolling rugged and remote areas around the Mexican border, to detect illegal aliens and drug traffickers.
About 80 percent of the U.S. Border Patrol’s current stable of 400 horses come from inmate training programs in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Nevada.
According to Reuters, Bureau of Land Management spokesman, Jason Lutterman, said, “Some 55,000 mustangs roam the Western U.S., more than double the number public land can support.”
At a Florence, Arizona prison, inmates retrieve their horses around dawn and work with them all day, supervised by Randy Helm, a third-generation rancher who also happens to be a former narcotics officer and self-proclaimed “cowboy preacher.”
During the next four to six months, the prisoners are taught by the 62-year-old Helm how to “gentle” the horses in and not “break” them in. His method includes small step by step increments, involving rewards for good behavior.
Any inmate that attempts to get rough with a horse is immediately tossed out of the program.
Rick Kline, a 32-year-old prisoner who is serving a 7 and 1/2 year sentence for car theft, looks at his job as therapy for him, and many of the other inmates feel the same.
“It’s more working on us than on them,” said Kline. “It’s a new understanding of calming down.”
He hopes to apply that skill of staying calm to parenting his two kids when he gets out of prison.
Another prisoner who shares the same sentiments, Bret Karakey, 35, in prison for identity theft, recently broke his hip when he was thrown from a horse. But he came back without hesitation.
“I kind of need this,” he said.
Florence began the horse training program in 2012, and “of the 50 or so who have gone through it and been released, none has returned to prison,” Helm said.
The national recidivism rate is about 68 percent within three years of release.
The Bureau of Land Management has been rounding up more than 10,000 mustangs and putting about 6,000 into new homes each year. The Border Patrol, which began in 1924, is the biggest purchaser of mustangs from the inmate programs.
The border is rugged terrain and consists of 654 miles of fence exist between the United States and Mexico, accounting for about a third of the border.
The San Diego border patrol unit has 28 horses, and the Tucson unit more than 130. Fifteen horses from the Florence prison were adopted in 2014 and 2015.
On horseback, the agents can better maneuver around desolate stretches of land that trucks cannot. The mustangs can walk through creeks and up steep hills, without hesitation.
Bobby Stine, the Supervisory agent in charge of the San Diego Sector Horse Patrol Unit, said, “It really feels like the Wild West out where we patrol for sure. There’s just not a lot of law enforcement presence, except for us.”
Unbelievably, some of the inmates tasked with training the horses are Mexican nationals apprehended on the border for drug-related offenses.
According to inmate Kline, “the inmates say they don’t mind that the horses help law enforcement. They are simply happy the animals no longer face thirst and starvation in the drought-stricken West.”
Kline said, “All the ‘inmates against cops’ stuff – that’s not true. They’re just doing their job. And we’re doing our job. These horses depend on us.”
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