From Australia to Arizona, horse programmes are credited with a drop in inmate reoffending rates.
Prisoners will be taught horsemanship skills such as grooming, feeding, and stable management, but the training is also expected to have a therapeutic effect.
Charity founder Jonathan Irwin who has worked in racing for decades, has determinedly pursued his mission to get horses into Irish prisons ever since he visited an equine prison programme in New York 30 years ago.
“I was at the yearling sales in a town, in north New York, called Saratoga, and while I was there, one of my American friends brought me to see an equine centre in a prison,” said Mr Irwin, founder of the Jack and Jill foundation.
“I was very impressed with what I saw. They spoke to me about the prisoners’ lack of reoffending. There are more of these prisons in America now, and in Australia, where it has been unbelievably successful.
“The only problem there is they want to take the horse home with them. It’s a way back for the inmates to get back on the treadmill of life. It’s the first such project in Europe. What country is more suitable for this than Ireland?”
After 30 years of campaigning, he got the go-ahead from Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to build the equine block in the medium-security prison in Roscommon if he could fundraise €100,000 for the building work.
“Hopefully, the building will begin in Castlerea Prison in the spring,” Mr Irwin said.
He has raised half the funds from members of the Turf Club to build 10 stables, a tack room, and turn-out paddock at Castlerea from members of the Turf Club.
“I got €50,000 in the first week,” said Mr Irwin. “The Turf Club sent out a letter, about 10 days ago, under my signature, to all the members of the Turf Club. The response was extraordinary.
“The deal is: I have to raise €100,000 for the capital cost of the facilities and the yearly management will be borne by the prison service. I’m very hopeful we’ll hit the target before Christmas.”