Most prisons in the United States have recreational departments and rehabilitation programs of some kind to help prisoners to get an education, learn skills and trades, find a sense of purpose and contribution ect. The goal of these programs is to inspire those involved to find meaning in life again and to provide the tools necessary to rebuild their lives when they do leave the prison. Some programs incorporate dogs in, allowing prisoners to foster and socialize a puppy or an adult dog. Sometimes they are rescued dogs in need of a temporary home while waiting for adoption and sometimes they are puppies in need of socialization and basic training in order to later be a service dog for a child or adult with a disability.
Canine Companions for Independence, Southeast headquarters located here in Orlando, has such a prison program. Joyce Arnold, then warden of the Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy Florida, teamed up in 2006 to create a program designed to facilitate CCI’s service dog puppy raising program. CCI’s dogs are socialized and trained basic obedience commands by the inmates for the first year to two years of their life, then advance-trained at CCI’s facility, and given, free of charge, to the recipient who is physically handicapped.
I spoke with Traci Norris, Gadsden’s manager of the recreation department, to find out how it works. First the inmates must have no disciplinary reports, have a good record and recommendations and have at least two years left on their sentence. They are these dogs primary caregiver for the whole length of the dog’s stay and are with the dogs 24/7. Traci travels on behalf of the inmates to CCI’s facility in Orlando when it is time for a dog’s advanced training and also for a graduation ceremony when that same dog is ready to go home with a handicapped recipient. The video of her visit is shown to the puppy raisers; she says this is when she sees the inmates pride and sense of accomplishment the most. Traci experiences daily the positive impact that this program has in the lives of all involved and in her own words, she is “hooked”.
The Gadsden Facility is also in partnership with Second Chance Greyhounds, a foster care program for retired racers waiting for adoption. Please read this short informative blog page written by Second Chance Greyhounds.
Please take a few short minutes to view the video “Puppies Behind Bars”. It is a very moving account of how these dogs impact the lives of inmates and then go on to do other extraordinary things. This video is well worth viewing as it details several prison programs that, in addition to training dogs for the handicapped individual, they train bomb-detecting dogs as well as those who visit elderly shut-ins.