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Humanizing Prisons with Animals: A Closer Look at "Cell Dogs" and Horse Programs in Correctional Institutions

NCJ Number
Journal of Correctional Education Volume: 56 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2005 Pages: 46-62
Christiane Deaton
Date Published
March 2005
17 pages
This article describes the features and benefits of animal-training programs in prisons.
The author first outlines the theoretical framework that underlies the rationale for developing prison programs that involve inmate interaction with animals. The theory is that a goal-oriented interaction between an inmate and an animal forges a human-animal bond that bolsters self-esteem, empathy, and a nurturing trait for human relationships. After tracing the history of the use of animal programs in prisons, the article presents examples of recent animal-training programs in correctional facilities. At the Washington State Correctional Center for Women, a maximum-security facility, inmates are training dogs to be service animals for the disabled. A similar dog-training program was begun at the Downeast Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Maine. A year into the program, prison officials observed a decrease in prison tension and the ability of inmates to produce well-trained dogs capable of valuable service to disabled persons. The Pen Pals program at the James River Correctional Center in Virginia is designed to save unwanted dogs at public shelters from euthanasia by turning them into adoptable pets. Currently, horse-training programs at correctional facilities are used to tame and train wild mustangs for sale to the public when they must be removed from their wild environments and also to rehabilitate retired racehorses. Such programs are operating at Colorado's largest prison complex in Cannon City and at the California Correctional Center in Susanville. Although there is a lack of research that has provided empirical evidence of the effectiveness of these programs, there is persuasive anecdotal evidence that they are changing inmates while providing a valuable service to the public. 28 references