Dog Training Used as Method of Rehabilitation
(10/15/2013)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — While many prisons are implementing new methods of rehabilitation such as work-hire programs and various educational opportunities, others are looking into alternative options in order to help inmates with the rehab process. Prison officials at Jamesville Correctional Facility in Onondaga County are currently planning to incorporate a program that will allow inmates to interact with and help train stray dogs.

Joanie Mahoney, an Onondaga County executive, proposed constructing a kennel at the county jail to help train stray dogs that would otherwise be euthanized due to a lack of space at the DeWitt Animal Hospital. The kennel is expected to cost $350,000 and would help both the inmates’ and the dogs’ healing process. Not only would it help inmates improve their behavior, but it would also help train the dogs and find them new homes.

The prison would work with local animal welfare groups to find appropriate owners for the dogs once they’ve been trained. Stefanie Heath-Higgins, from the ‘Cuse Pit Crew, commented recently on the program: “You’re creating a relationship between the dog and the inmate. You’re providing that inmate with self-esteem and purpose.”

The kennel at the Jamesville prison would be designed to house 20 to 25 dogs requiring simple training such as housebreaking and basic commands. The inmates would not be working with aggressive dogs.

This program would help expand upon the animal-based rehab programs already instated in prisons in N.Y. Some inmates in Jamesville have helped train pheasants for hunters as a form of rehab, and a similar dog training program at the Albany Correctional Facility has been met with great success. The Albany program, which combines the efforts of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department and the Steps To adoption Readiness (STAR) partnership, helps prepare the dogs for loving homes and helps the inmates develop new communication and interpersonal skills. The program’s first group of dogs graduated in May.

The process of working with dogs can be very therapeutic for inmates. Not only does working with the dogs help calm the inmates down and help improve their behavior, but they must have a certain quality of conduct from the outset to even qualify for the program. The prospect of working with the animals can provide an incentive to help improve other inmates’ behavior as well.

Construction for the Jamesville kennel is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring of 2014.

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