Puppies & prisoners
At Southern Queensland Correctional Centre, a medium and high-security prison run by Serco near Brisbane, Australia, prisoners are training puppies to help people with disabilities, which supports their own rehabilitation.
Pups in Prison has enabled staff and offenders to support the community. It has been one of the most powerful programmes I have ever witnessed.
Prisoners serving life sentences and puppies might seem an unlikely mix, but at one of our high-security prisons in Australia, it has proved to be a winning combination.
Pups in Prison began as a partnership between Borallon Correctional Centre and Assistance Dogs Australia, a non-profit organisation that trains golden retrievers and labradors to assist people with physical difficulties. Staff and prisoners then moved to the new facility, Southern Queensland Correctional Centre. The project won a Pulse Award (Serco's annual recognition of outstanding employee contribution) in 2011.
The idea for the scheme came from Project Leader Juanita Zuna, who had seen it in action elsewhere. There have been significant positive changes in relationships between staff and offenders since the scheme was launched, and it has also helped to improve relations with the local community.
Under the programme, puppies are matched with prisoners at the Correctional Centre. Over the course of 13 months, the prisoners teach the dogs more than 40 individual commands and tasks, such as emptying washing machines, retrieving post and opening doors and drawers, all of which will help the dogs support their future owners. The prisoners' responsibilities include 24-hour care, keeping a diary of their puppy's progress and weekly training sessions.
Scott McNairn, the prison's Director, says: "The Pups in Prison programme has enabled staff and offenders to fully engage and support people in the community who suffer from a disability or physical impairment. It has been one of the most powerful programmes I have ever witnessed."
But the greatest impact has been on the prisoner dog carers. As Kris, a carer for one puppy, said, "This programme gives people like me a way to begin to redeem themselves. It gives us a sense of pride." Scott adds: "The programme has given offenders the chance to learn valuable life and vocational skills to use in finding employment when they are released from custody. It has helped enhance reading and writing skills, self-esteem and self-confidence, and it has encouraged prisoners to take personal responsibility."
After the success of the first cohort, the programme has continued with the second group of dogs currently training with offenders. This group will complete their training at the end of 2013.