PAW AND ORDER: PRISON DOG PROGRAMS AND THEIR IMPACT ON REHABILITATION IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
By Amber Fountain*
Animal-assisted therapy has been gaining traction in recent decades, and rehabilitative and stabilizing programs have been utilized in multiple settings, from schools to hospitals to courtrooms.1 There is significant research showing the positive effects of animal interaction on certain populations, including young children, people with physical or mental disabilities, people who have experienced trauma, and people requiring palliative care.2 There is another category of people who can and should benefit from animal-assisted therapy: prison inmates.
Some people tend to view felons as animals. What if that notion was flipped on its head-what if animals could be used to help rehabilitate criminal offenders? Recently, some prisons have seen an influx of a different kind of inmate: dogs. This paper argues for the expansion of animal-assisted therapy programs within prisons nationwide, with a specific emphasis on dog training programs. The idea is to take at-risk shelter dogs, place them in prisons, and have inmates who qualify for the program train them to become service dogs (or at least close companions) for people who need assistance due to a physical or emotional disability. Thus, animal-assisted therapy can come full cycle in a low-cost, highly efficient manner: vulnerable inmate populations can work toward their own rehabilitative goals through interacting with and training dogs that will go on to provide therapy to those outside the prison walls.