Deputy’s idea to save ducks evolves into a criminal justice reform program in Key West

Stock Island Detention Center inmate working with ‘Farmer’ Jeanne: ‘Its therapeutic’

from Local 10/FL

Sheriff Rick Ramsay is proud of the peculiar collection of over 150 animals at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm, a USDA-certified zoo at the Stock Island Detention Center in Key West.

It opened as a sanctuary in 1994 after Deputy Becky Herrin suggested a space to protect ducks from drivers on the highway and then the former Sheriff Rick Roth liked the idea. It became a home for confiscated animals, victims of abandonment and neglect.

Ramsay said it is also the home of a unique criminal justice reform program for low-risk detention center inmates who can use learning skills to make them more employable such as teamwork and cooperation.

“You know these animals they get your mind off of stuff … When you get down here it’s a different world … It’s therapeutic,” said Michael Hernandez, an inmate who works at the farm, adding the program has helped him mentally and emotionally.

Over 15 years ago, Dr. Doug Mader, a veterinarian, noticed things got wild and recommended Jeanne Selander as a director of operations. She grew up on South Carolina’s James Island. She was an equestrian and marine biology major at the College of Charleston.

Selander was a scuba diving instructor with plenty of experience at the Key West Aquarium. She has become known around the inmates as “Farmer Jeanne,” and she wears a unique Monroe County Sheriff’s Office uniform.

“I feel like a lot of the inmates have learned something from being here and not just about animal care, but about compassion and responsibility,” said Selander, who has a unique Monroe County uniform.

Under supervision, the inmates help care for “Thunder,” a miniature Zebu; “Jack,” an ostrich; “Julien,” a lemur; “Kinx,” a kinkajou; “Rocky, a fox; and “Coco,” a skunk. There are miniature horses, chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits, armadillos, an alpaca, an albino Burmese python, and peacocks.

Aside from the aim to reduce recidivism, Ramsay said running the petting zoo, open to the public for free twice a month, has many other benefits for law enforcement and the community — including an influential community-policing component.

“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.”