When you’re locked behind bars, there isn’t a whole lot that consistently provides joy and hope. But for many inmates around the country, having the opportunity to interact (and even train) a canine in need can teach valuable lessons — to both dog and human.
America actually has the highest incarceration rate worldwide. According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 2.2 million adults were being held in U.S. jails and prisons at the end of 2016. In Ohio alone, 1.9 million people have criminal records, with $80 billion being spent every year on correctional facilities throughout the nation. The need for prison reform is an issue many Americans take extremely seriously, and often for good reason. But because the wheels of political change tend to turn slowly, it may be necessary for those who are currently incarcerated to find a source for hope and healing as they serve their sentences or wait for their trials to begin.
That’s exactly what inmate dog training programs can provide. With over 75 million pet dogs throughout the U.S., there are plenty of opportunities for shelters and non-profit organizations to partner with correctional facilities in order to secure proper training for pups in need of homes. Some shelters will turn to local jails and prisons to provide obedience training and a foster-like atmosphere that can help these pups become more adoptable. Other organizations will team up with inmate programs to provide service dog training for those with mental health issues, hearing and vision problems, or for wounded veterans.
Throughout the process, the dogs get a chance to become better socialized and to shed some of their behavioral issues, which can make them more of an attractive match to families looking to adopt. But the benefits certainly extend to the inmates as well. In many cases, just being able to qualify for dog training programs will indicate a desire for inmates to improve their own lives. In one prison, the recidivism rate for inmates was approximately 85% among the general population; among those who participated in the dog training program, the likelihood of reoffending and coming back to prison decreased to around 25%. Some participants are even able to get jobs at animal shelters or in animal care after their release as a result of their experiences.
The bond shared between inmates and canines is undeniable, with many of those incarcerated reporting that their participation has allowed them to feel love and hope in ways that they might not otherwise experience. Since 74% of people surveyed say they have noticed mental health improvements due to keeping animals as pets, that’s really not surprising in the slightest. But if participating in such programs can keep former inmates from reoffending and help incredible dogs find loving homes, that’s a truly impressive trick.
It’s encouraging that at a time when it would seem like an inmate’s life has gone to the dogs, a four-legged friend could help turn things around again. As more prisons and jails adopt programs like these, it’s possible that they could keep both dogs and humans from being locked up in places they don’t want to be.