Stevens says Patriot Paws prefers Labrador Retrievers ages six weeks to 18 months. Labs are known for their intelligence, trainability and affable personalities. The charity’s programs are currently implemented only at women’s correctional facilities.
“They have a lot of continuous education programs for the men, but very few for females, so that’s how we got started,” she says.
Stevens says it takes about 18 months to fully train a dog. While training on prison grounds, the dogs live in a special unit with their handlers, with each cell having a kennel to hold the dog, then-currently assigned to the inmate. Inmates are carefully screened and chosen for these assignments and only the ones who have demonstrated exceptional behavior are chosen. Stevens says it’s a competitive billet for the inmates.
“There’s a long waiting list for the inmates to get into the Patriot Paws Training Program,” she says.
The dogs rotate through to each inmate as they train so all inmates in the program have a stake in each animal’s success. Graduation, Stevens says, is bittersweet, but when the veteran for whom the dog is training comes to meet his or her new companion and work with the animal before heading home, the rewards are, as Stevens says, “definitely worth it.”
Another vote for animals in prison
Dr. Frederic Reamer, a professor of social work at Rhode Island College School of Social Work, and a member of the State Parole Board since 1992, has seen plenty of inmates pass through parole hearing doors. Some of those prisoners have participated in animal-related programs in his state’s prison system, and Reamer says those efforts are making a visible difference: “I’ve seen it firsthand, have interviewed the inmates and observed the dogs interact with the prisoners.”
He says a program that originated in Massachusetts, the National Education Assistance Dog Service (NEADS), also known as the “prison pup program”, which specializes in training dogs for the deaf or disabled, has been successful throughout New England. On its website, NEADS says inmates train service dogs in half the time it takes to similarly prepare an animal in a foster home.
Reamer says that in a clinical sense many inmates struggle with attachment issues. Animal programs allow them to develop healthy attachments with other creatures, which he says is therapeutic.
“They actually get to experience a relationship,” he says, acknowledging that while the relationship is not with another human being, interacting with an animal provides a healthy attachment they can strive to replicate when they leave prison.
Taxpayers spend billions to remove offenders from society, but mounting costs have proven prohibitive and the future looks even gloomier. With many rehabilitation programs currently in the prisons either proving busts or too costly to operate, the relatively inexpensive and humane option of integrating animals into appropriate prison settings can be one way state and federal institutions help society work towards resolving this issue without breaking the bank.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.