Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Gerald P. Mallon

Subject Categories

Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice | Psychology | Social Work


Human-Horse relations, Inmate rehabilitation, Methodological triangulation, Mixed-methods, Prison-based programs, Recidivism


Policy makers and correctional authorities are seeking ways to enhance effectiveness of incarceration and reduce recidivism. Equine-facilitated prison-based vocational programs aim to rehabilitate inmates. Informed by the theories of attachment and desistance, this study evaluates the emotional and behavioral effects of such an intervention utilizing a quasi-experimental methodological triangulation design.

Recidivism and disciplinary misconduct are examined by clinical data-mining of institutional records. Propensity Score Matching, binary and multinomial logistic regressions are applied in a discrete-time event history analysis. Semi-structured interviews revealing the subjective experiences of participants are analyzed via the Listening Guide methodology. Quantitative questionnaires, exploring attachment and closeness to horses as compared to humans, are analyzed by linear regressions.

Quantitative findings suggest that program participants have a statistically lower chance to recidivate as compared with the control group. Otherwise, a reduction in the severity of disciplinary misconduct was not found. Findings of the questionnaires suggest that horses are approached as attachment figures, including all four features, while higher levels of attachment and closeness to horses were evident among older participants with stronger attachments to their mothers.

Qualitative findings show the roles of human-horse relations within prison-context. Emotional features highlight the importance of providing alternative opportunities to experience companionship, which may help inmates process their relational issues and improve competencies. Additionally, the program helps inmates to cope with psychological impact of imprisonment. Behavioral features demonstrate how the program allows inmates to perform as mature individuals while being involved in meaningful activities, which can generate pro-social skills. Social learning exhibit how participants interpreted herd dynamics by projecting human interactions on horses. These could be further discussed to enhance social awareness and develop alternative approaches toward social situations. Furthermore, participants' evaluation of the program and vocational features reveal vocational skills that may be transferable to other settings. Adding an intervention that would help bridge between experiences in the program and other vocations after release could enhance the program's broad impact.

Knowledge gleaned from this inquiry has practical implications for the program, and suggests that rehabilitative approaches toward corrections can contribute to a more humane treatment of this population while also benefiting society.