Magazine article American Jails

Service Dogs DOING TIME

Magazine article American Jails

Service Dogs DOING TIME

Article excerpt

After serving almost 30 years in corrections before retiring as a captain, my entire career was spent working on the security side of corrections. I was never a big proponent of inmate programs with the exception of the GED program and others such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and some vocational programs. Then I learned about service dog programs. This article introduces three service dog programs that not only help inmates, but also give back to the community.

Canine Cellmates Program

The Canine Cellmates Program at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia is the first dog service program that I discovered. This program saves dogs that are scheduled to be euthanized from local shelters. The process begins when the dogs are paired with their handlers, that is, inmates who train them as service dogs (Koehl, 2014). According to Executive Director of the program, Susan Jacobs Meadows, "The dogs actually become therapy dogs in this program, we just don't tell them."

An inmate is partnered with a dog for several months. The dog's crate sits at the foot of the inmate's bunk in the cell. Their schedule includes stress training and discipline for both the dog and their inmate counterpart.

During the training sessions, inmates and their dogs gather inside a large room. One of the inmates working in this program is 18-year-old Vandez McCloudy, a repeat offender serving his fourth stint inside the Fulton County Jail. At the time of this article, his service dog was Bentley. McCloudy stated with pride, "I trained him to give me his paw, crawl, roll, stay, and sit down" (Koehl, 2014).

Another inmate in the same program, Teddy Teshone, was paired with Heidi. Teshone has never owned a dog. He describes his dog as loving, intelligent, patient, and mature. All of these qualities are needed to meet the service dog criteria (Koehl, 2014).

When asked what this program means to them, the inmates can only reflect that this type of program saves more than just their dog's life; it also saves their own. The dogs are non-judgmental, and the love that the dogs share with their handlers is a "soul-shifting transformation" (Koehl, 2014). It is clear that the paths of the dogs and their inmate handlers are changed forever. For more information on the Canine Cellmates program, visit caninecellmates.org.

Sago Palm Correctional Facility Service Dog Program

In Palm Beach County, Florida, the Sago Palm Correctional Facility has developed its own service dog program to assist in the fight to reduce recidivism. Because many inmates come from a culture dominated by gang violence and drugs, they can be susceptible to the many traps that are found within such a population. At this particular correctional institution, Warden Robert Hendry states, "There is an average of 9 to 10 disciplinary reports lodged weekly against the inmates at Sago" (Shepard & Esquivel, 2015).

At Sago Palm Correctional Facility, it is a privilege to train a dog. According to the warden, the inmates who are involved in this program over the last 12 months have not had any misconducts. This includes individuals like Justin Burns, who is 26 years old and has an addiction to painkillers that led him to prison. Justin and his fellow inmates who participate in this program are proof that this program is changing the lives of the inmates who are incarcerated (Shepard & Esquivel, 2015).

Justin says, "You have gangs. You have drugs... I'm trying to change my life. When you come into the dog dorm, you realize no one is doing that and everybody's on the same page as you." Former inmate Richard Pugh says he knows why these programs are so successful: "These animals make a difference. They should be in prisons. it teaches you having some care and consideration for something besides yourself" (Shepard & Esquivel, 2015).

At Sago, 20 inmates are training these animals for the purpose of assisting people who suffer from disabilities. …

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