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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Pet Facilitated Therapy in Correctional Institutions

D. Background -A Brief Overview

iii) PFT in Psychiatric Hospitals

One of the more powerful examples of the benefits of a PFT program can be found at the Oakwood Forensic Center (formerly known as Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane) located in Lima, Ohio. David R. Lee, a psychiatric social worker at the institution, started the program in 1975:

One day about eight years ago, it was discovered that a patient had found an injured sparrow in the large prison courtyard and had carried the small bird to a ward housing the hospital’s most depressed, non-communicative patients. Although no wild life or even plants were permitted in wards at that time, attendants and patients alike joined in the conspiracy to keep this bird regardless of rules. Patients adopted the bird -- and the results were remarkable. Despondent and non-communicative men began catching insects for the small sparrow and caring for it. For the first time in this ward for the severely disturbed, patients began acting as a group and relating openly with staff. (Lee, 1983)

A comparison study between two wards, identical except one had pets and one didn’t, demonstrated statistically what the staff already knew. The medication level was double in the ward without pets, as was the incidence of violence and suicide attempts (Lee, 1983).

A formal pet therapy program was put into place. The success of the PFT program at Oakwood is an indication of how powerful the presence of animals can be. Lee attributes the success of the program to the measures put in place for its implementation, which included documenting progress, establishing guidelines to ensure human care and an overall system of monitoring (Lee, 1983). In short, critical planning is key for the success of any PFT program. The Oakwood Program has the following goals:

Psychological testing was used to evaluate the progress of each characteristic listed below within 90 days of the program.

  1. Improve self-esteem
  • Providing non-threatening, non-judgmental affection
  • Stimulating a responsible attitude within the pet caretaker
  • Catalyze communication
  • Improvement of the atmosphere
  • Provide a new focus of attraction
  • Provide a necessary diversion
  • Provide needed companionship
  • overview of some of the PFT programs in correctional institutions are described in Appendix