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West Dorset prison course more than just horseplay
ACTOR Martin Clunes has sung the praises of a West Dorset horse charity for its success in helping young offenders to turn their lives around.
For three years Askerswell’s Harriet Laurie has been helping the inmates on Portland learn skills to break the cycle of offending and incarceration.
It’s been so successful at the Portland Young Offender Institution (YOI) she’s now trained three other natural horsemanship specialists to do the same in three other prisons.
From her idea of using her horses to teach those life skills she set up The Horse Course charity and persuaded Martin Clunes and Lord Jim Knight to be patrons.
She also wanted academic evaluation of its success and asked Professor Rosie Meek of Teeside University and Dr Ann Hemingway from Bournemouth University to see if there was a statistical measure of improvement.
They found significant changes in behaviour, as well as impressive feedback from staff, participants and observers.
Their findings show adjudications – the nearest thing to re-offending while in prison – were down 74 per cent, and negative entries – lesser offences – down 72 per cent.
Mr Clunes, who is patron of the charity, said: “This evaluation is a hugely empowering endorsement for a charity like this.
“To anyone who hasn’t actually seen the difference The Horse Course makes to people’s lives this provides positive proof that it absolutely works on so many levels.”
Ms Laurie added: “The results show prisoners walking the walk, not just talking the talk, and that we have made a genuine change in behaviour – not just had some feel-good anecdotes.”
Professor Meek said with an average of £47,137 per year for each young offender to the state, and considerably higher for those frequently involved in disruption and adjudications, Ms Laurie’s course was value for money.
Professor Meek said: “Taking this £47,000 in relation to the total cost of £750 per participant for The Horse Course to operate, suggests that if just one out of every 60 participants who would have reoffended is prevented from doing so in one year, the project will have already more than saved the initial expenditure.
“The Horse Course aims to teach psychological and emotional self-control with two specially trained horses.
“The horses give reliable and accurate feedback on participants’ calmness and focus and the course is highly structured and challenging.
“It allows participants to develop and test their ability to stay calm under pressure, set goals and stick at them despite frustrations, and to become confident as learners.”
Ms Laurie aims particularly to help offenders with a history of conflict with staff or other prisoners and those who are at risk of victimisation and/or self harm.
Funding is always an issue and The Horse Course will run out of funding in April.