Correctional Service Canada
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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Pet Facilitated Therapy in Correctional Institutions

VIDEO REVIEWS

E. Pets For Freedom: Lorton Prison Program, Washington, D.C.

This institution has over 1000 inmates (1982), most of whom are serving sentences ranging from 10 years to life. Since 1982, the institution housed a variety of small animals. This program is unique in that it accepts exotic birds, rats and roaches without prejudice, though rabbits and guinea pigs proved unsuccessful. Snakes are permitted, nor are dogs because of the concern that inmates may train them to attack other inmates. The animals are not restricted to kennels or a specific area of the prison. Many of them reside with their owner by the side or foot of his bed.

Like most PFT programs, there is a screening component prior to permission being given to participate to ensure that the inmate is responsible enough to care for another being and will not abuse or neglect the animal in his care. The administrator of the program feels that PFT is wonderful for and beneficial to the inmates. PFT has dramatically changed the attitudes of prisoners.

Though inmates in this program can attend classes to learn how to care and groom their animals, the focus is not on training and acquiring skills for future employment. Once a week, approximately 60 inmates attend an optional classroom training course. The participants are full of questions and enthusiasm. Although many of the prisoners had little experience with animals prior to the program, they demonstrated an eagerness to learn by attending the optional training classes and reading relevant literature on their own. One inmate commented that PFT can be implemented in various prisons. He wants others to experience the benefits it has to offer. The inmates are very fond of their animals, they proudly show them and their pictures to the viewers. One inmate was asked how he feeds his cat, and this was his response: "I eat breakfast, my cat gets my lunch and we share dinner." When an injured bird landed on the prison grounds, an inmate took it into his care and nursed it back to health. This type of response demonstrates how attached and important these animals are to the inmates.

The video indicated that while some inmates are difficult to discipline, the program has given them a new lease on life and something to look forward to each day. For many of them, it is the first time they have been responsible for any living thing. This feeling increases their self esteem and feelings of self worth. One of the most powerful benefits of the program is its ability to allow the inmates to freely reciprocate love and compassion with another living being.