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How a Fla. deputy’s idea to save ducks turned into a program benefiting inmates

While the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm is home to mainly confiscated animals, the farm also serves as a unique criminal justice reform program for inmates

By Sarah Roebuck

KEY WEST, Fla. — Back in 1994, a deputy with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office had an idea to save ducks that were getting hit on a nearby road.

Deputy Becky Herrin’s idea turned into what is now the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm, a USDA-certified zoo at the Stock Island Detention Center in Key West, WPLG reports.

The farm started as a haven for homeless animals in an area underneath the jail facility after Herrin suggested a space to protect the ducks from drivers, according to the report. The first residents were the ducks and a group of chickens.

Not long after the fowl were brought to the area, the SPCA in Miami called the MCSO and asked if the facility could house a blind horse that was found abandoned.

Using inmate labor, MCSO said a space was created for the horse, and the animal farm was born.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay said while the farm is home to mainly confiscated animals that were victims of abuse and neglect, the farm also serves as a unique criminal justice reform program for low-risk detention center inmates.

When inmates work at the farm, they receive formal training in some aspects of animal husbandry, which they could potentially use when they are released from the facility, MCSO said.

“At the very least, they learn to work closely with many creatures in need of the compassion and caring of a human being — an experience which cannot help but be a positive factor in their lives,” MCSO stated.

Inmate workers are generally low-risk inmates. In the video below, risk management expert and Lexipol co-founder Gordan Graham outlines effective management of inmate worker programs:

“You know these animals they get your mind off of stuff ... When you get down here it’s a different world ... It’s therapeutic,” Michael Hernandez, an inmate who works at the farm, told WPLG.

In addition to the goal of reducing recidivism, Ramsay said running a petting zoo at the farm, which is open to the public twice a month, has other benefits for law enforcement and interacting with the community.

“Most kids in the Keys, they have only seen a dog, a cat, a chicken and an iguana,” Ramsay said. “We try to build these strong relationships with our citizens. If citizens know us, they are going to like us, trust us, and respect us.”

The farm’s operations are overseen by a paid employee, Jeanne Selander, who is affectionately referred to as “Farmer Jeanne” by the inmates, WPLG reports.