Some of the inmates at Erie County Correctional Facility are participating in a unique rehabilitation program. 15 prisoners help take care of hundreds of pheasants each day as part of a new brooding effort.
It's a program designed to teach the inmates responsibility while they pick up skills that could be useful after they're released. The inmates are learning how to raise pheasants and are responsible for changing out food and water throughout the day. They also got hands on experience building the brooding house and outdoor shelter for the birds.
"They've actually built as many things here as they could build and erect themselves," Sheriff Howard explained. "The fact that the inmates are learning every aspect of this that they can participate in certainly goes to both their level of pride as well as the success of the program."
The program itself acts as an added incentive for the participants to be on their best behavior. Otherwise, their time with the birds can be taken away.
"[The inmates in the program] get very few disciplinary write ups. They cause very few infractions in the facility," Chief Paul Evans said.
Caring for the birds and getting some extra time outside is something the inmates have been enjoying.
"They treat the birds like they're their own. The inmates find it soothing. They're like pets to them," Chief Evans said.
It's not easy work, but Sheriff Howard says the program is off to a great start.
"These inmates are already expressing some satisfaction, some accomplishment in the fact that they've taken these pheasants from day old chicks to the seven and eight week old birds you see running behind us," he said.
And the work doesn't stop there. The jail just brought in 500 more pheasant chicks for the inmates to raise.
The program doesn't introduce any additional costs to taxpayers. Erie County Sheriff's Office is partnered with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC will decide when and where to release the pheasants into the wild. Sheriff Howard expects that to be by the beginning of October.