Chester County Prison receives State Best Practices Award

Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline (left), Marian Moskowitz (center right) and Josh Maxwell (right) present the Criminal Justice Systems for the 21st Century Award to Chris Murphy, Chief of Probation, Parole and Pretrial Services for Chester County.

WEST CHESTER — Chester County Prison has been selected as state-wide winner, receiving the 21st Century Criminal Justice Best Practices Awards in the large jail category for its Cognitive Behavioral Equine Enhancement program.  The award is sponsored by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), the Pennsylvania County Corrections Association, the PA Prison Wardens Association, the CCAP Insurance Programs, and JDCAP.

The award was presented to Chester County by Janine Quigley, Chair of the Committee on County Criminal Justice Systems for the 21st Century, at a recent Commissioners’ public meeting.

“The Criminal Justice Systems for the 21st Century award program was created to address population management within county prisons across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and to recognize effective, targeted practices and programs that create a lasting solution to overcrowding in prisons,” said Quigley.

“Chester County’s Cognitive Behavioral Equine Enhancement Program brings together corrections staff, adult probation staff and the nonprofit sector to provide a system of support that targets anxiety, depression and hopelessness among prison inmates.  The results have been incredible. It is clear that the program is having a positive effect on recidivism, and it can be shared and replicated in other counties so that our communities as a whole benefit,” added Quigley.

In 2013, Chester County Adult Probation began looking at ways to reduce recidivism for new arrests or technical violations, and to reduce the jail population by avoiding the return of probation/parole violators.  Staff in Adult Probation began a Thinking for Change (T4C) curriculum at the prison – an integrated, cognitive behavior change program for offenders that includes cognitive restructuring, social skill development and development of problem solving skills.

The success of the T4C curriculum eventually led to Chester County Prison and Adult Probation working with Gateway HorseWorks’ Stable Pathways equine-assisted psychotherapy program.  Through private donations, the Cognitive Behavioral Equine Enhancement Program (as it came to be called) moved to the Prison with the building of a facility to accommodate horses transported from HorseWorks.  Using horses, but never riding, offenders are invited once a week into a safe, non-judgmental space to build a trusting relationship with the horses and the equine specialist-certified mental health professionals.

Chris Murphy, Chief of Chester County Probation, Parole and Pre-Trial Services, said,  “Our partnership with Gateway HorseWorks started with our Women’s Re-Entry and Assessment Program, but later expanded to include male inmates housed at the Work Release Center at Chester County Prison.

“Over the years, the results of the Cognitive Behavioral Equine Enhancement Program have been incredible, with recidivism rates for new arrests and technical violations recorded as drastically lower than statewide and national levels.  We are proud of this program and the results that it has achieved, not just in the lowering of recidivism rates, but in giving both men and women who qualify for the program access to creative and effective ways of addressing mental health issues.”

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