We are not able to sustain the program without losing money. The program was not cost effective and we do not know if it was effective in reducing recidivism. We do know it was not serving a lot of inmates. —Mike Haddon, Utah Department of Corrections
GUNNISON — Disagreement over the costs associated with a wild horse gentling program at the Gunnison prison has led to its suspension, and efforts are underway to find a place for 1,500 horses.
The program's cessation means the Bureau of Land Management will move about 90 percent of the animals to out-of-state facilities, with a prison-imposed deadline to have that accomplished by Oct. 6.
"The BLM's Utah State Office has valued our relationship with the Utah Department of Corrections and regret that it has decided to terminate the Wild Horse Inmate Program at Gunnison," said Tom Gorey, acting spokesman for the BLM in Utah. "This program has aided in the rehabilitation of inmates and has, through the gentling of horses, helped place animals into good, private care."
Gorey added that the state agency decision to end the program will complicate national efforts to make sure there is enough off-range holding capacity for wild horses and burros that are removed off public ranges.
Mike Haddon, deputy director of the Utah Department of Corrections, said the program was losing money and had very little inmate participation. The BLM was informed of the agency's decision on Friday.
"We are not able to sustain the program without losing money," he said. "The program was not cost-effective, and we do not know if it was effective in reducing recidivism. We do know it was not serving a lot of inmates."
Since its inception in 2007, the program had 175 inmates who gentled horses for the public to adopt through BLM-managed programs. Of those 175 graduates, Haddon said only 82 of them had been released from prison — too small a number to effectively judge if the program had any viable, lasting impacts.
Haddon said the differences over money arose in 2012 when the initial five-year contract was renegotiated from a per-head, per day rate to another model of reimbursement.
"There was a discrepancy and dispute between what the BLM believes the department should be reimbursed and what the department believes it should be reimbursed," he said.
An audit by the Office of Inspector General released last year shows a more than million-dollar discrepancy between the two entities that raised questions over the costs.
The Utah Correctional Industries under which the program operated reported costs of a little more than $5.3 million for the five-year contract period, of which auditors said $1 million was "questioned" —or not allowable under the terms of the agreement.
Of that million dollars, $928,000 was deemed "unsupported," meaning documentation related to the costs was insufficient, the report said.
The audit concluded that the discrepancy in costs and conflicting reimbursements arose from the use of different accounting systems between the state and federal government.
In the case of the Utah Correctional Industries — which Haddon said is mandated to be self-sustaining — the audit said its accounting records and financial statements were organized like that of a business enterprise fund and not typical of government operations.
The BLM estimates that it has overpaid Utah Correctional Industries by about $2 million, Gorey said, adding that the agency is in the process of securing an outside, independent audit to verify this figure.