Since 2008, a partnership between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Patriot PAWS has given inmates at three Texas facilities the opportunity to train service dogs for disabled veterans.
Inmates at Lane Murray and Crain Women’s Correctional Units in Gatesville, along with the men of the Boyd Unit in Fairfield, Texas are assigned dogs and trained on training techniques to prepare the pups for a life of service.
“The partnership is intended to provide help not only for disabled veterans, but opportunities for inmates to have a job while serving their sentence, learning a career trade and giving back to the community,” says the programs website.
As more facilities recognize that vocational skills only go so far and don’t always provide a genuine opportunity for reform, these atypical prison programs have started to catch on.
Certified service dog trainers work with the inmates and their assigned pups on a weekly basis at the prison, and the program’s Executive Director, Lori Stevens, holds training classes once a week helping them learn more about the profession of training service dogs.
Inmates are tested quarterly throughout the program on their ability to train the dogs using the 55 behaviors required for certification. As they advance, some inmates are able to become mentors for new program participants.
Patriot PAWS has even hired some ex-offenders to continue training dogs at other facilities. Since the start of the program, the recidivism rate for inmates who complete the program is less than 3%.
The program teaches inmates a very specific skill, helps the dogs with training and socializing, significantly reduces the cost of training service dogs, and provides disabled veterans with a much-needed, otherwise costly, therapeutic assistant.
Because of the success of this program in state facilities, one county decided to partake.
Just this month, Dallas County Commissioners approved the Home for Hounds program for their jail, making them the first county jail in Texas to do so.
Dallas County’s five-week dog-training course is starting off with ten inmates and five dogs that were saved from being euthanized at the Grand Prairie Animal Shelter. The goal is threefold: increase adoption rates, teach inmates a valuable skill, and instill empathy.
The jail’s program director, Yolanda Lara, told the Dallas Morning News, “It teaches the inmate to be more nurturing toward another creature, to have sympathy and to take care of it.”
The county program is being funded through the sheriff’s commissary fund, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals donated collars, leashes, and dog beds. As with most prison reform programs it is only open to inmates who have no history of violence, and who pass the written essay and interview portion.
Prison dog training programs are universally beneficial. While many of the dogs are being rescued from euthanasia, in return the dog is rescuing two people: the inmate isolated in prison, and a disabled veteran.