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Bryan Tours John A. Bell Facility and Cuts Ribbon for Equine Therapy Program

Pictured left to right are: Transforming Lives Foundation Board Member Carlyle Holder; Co-founder and CEO of Hapi Homes, Mohamed Ahmed; Transforming Lives Foundation Board Members Alisa Malone and Dr. Anita Davis-DeFoe; Governor Albert Bryan Jr.; BOC Director Wynnie Testamark; BOC Programs and Grants Manage Peter Abrahams; and Transforming Lives Foundation Board Member Dave Clark.(Photo courtesy of Government House)

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. visited the John A. Bell facility for a comprehensive tour of the premises Monday, commemorating the grand opening of the Equine Therapy Program, Government House announced Friday.

The event showcased significant advancements in mental health services and the resolution of long-standing issues within the jail system, according to the press release. 

The tour commenced with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the groundbreaking Equine Therapy Program, which promises to foster rehabilitative opportunities for inmates. With the therapeutic power of horses, this program aims to facilitate emotional healing and personal growth for those within the facility, the press release stated. 

Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark and her staff, along with the dedicated team at the Virgin Islands Equestrian Equine Therapy Project, Inc., were hailed by Bryan for their outstanding efforts in bringing about a remarkable transformation, despite limited resources. The dedication and commitment exhibited by these individuals have significantly contributed to the enhancement of mental health services for inmates, the release stated. 

During the tour, Bryan engaged in meaningful discussions with inmates who expressed their heartfelt gratitude for the active mental health program, it said.

An inmate at the John A. Bell Correctional Facility on St. Croix works with a horse in The Equine Therapy Program, a collaboration between the Bureau of Corrections and the Virgin Islands Equestrian Equine Therapy Project, Inc. (Photo courtesy of Government House)

The implementation of a daytime clubhouse within the facility has offered inmates a voluntary avenue to access much-needed services. This inclusive approach has proven to be highly beneficial, fostering an environment of support and understanding. Furthermore, the recent addition of air conditioning to the cells marks a significant stride in ensuring the well-being and comfort of those incarcerated, demonstrating a compassionate and humane approach to corrections, according to the release. 

The resolution of the long-controversial food service program has been achieved, enhancing the overall living conditions of inmates and promoting an atmosphere of positivity and rehabilitation, the release stated. 

Bryan stated, “I am deeply impressed by the remarkable progress made at the John A. Bell facility. The Equine Therapy Program and the daytime clubhouse have made a substantial difference in the lives of the inmates, offering them hope and support. I commend Director Testamark and her team, as well as for their unwavering dedication in effecting positive change in our criminal justice system.”

The governor’s visit to the John A. Bell facility is a testament to the government’s commitment to prioritize mental health programs within correctional facilities. The implementation of progressive measures and the utilization of innovative resources are central to fostering an environment of rehabilitation and growth, it said. 


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