Australia's National Prison Newspaper

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ISSUE NO. 1

JULY 2024

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JULY 2024

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ISSUE NO. 1

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News and Investigations

‘It saved my life’: The programs helping people in prison care for dogs

Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a freelance writer based in Naarm/Melbourne, focusing on criminal justice reform.

Ethan Cassidy

There is no doubt in Hayley’s mind about the importance of the program that allowed her to care for and train a dog while in prison. “It saved my life,” she says. 

Hayley had been incarcerated at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (SQCC) for 16 months before applying for its Pups in Prison program. 

This program, run in partnership with Assistance Dogs Australia, allows prisoners to work with dogs from when they are one year old until they pass their final tests to become fully-trained working assistance dogs. 

If accepted into the program, women in the prison care for dogs 24/7, with trainers visiting twice a week to assist. 

Hayley’s dog was a black labrador called Hali. “I really have a love for dogs and I wanted to have a little mate,” she says. “It gets kind of lonely – I’m a mother and I need to care for something. What better than a dog that relies on you.” 

Programs such as these, which are run across minimum security prisons in Australia, are helping to give people in prison a companion and purpose during their time in incarceration. 

“It gave me something to wake up for,” Hayley says. “I was suffering from pretty severe depression being away from my family and children, and it took some of that away. It definitely helped my mental health. I owe my life to the dogs and the program. Without that program, I would hate to think where I’d be.” 

A report into the Pups in Prison program at Southern Queensland Correctional Centre found that it led to a near-95 per cent increase in the overall wellbeing of those in prison, including a 32 per cent increase in confidence and esteem, a 25 per cent boost in mental wellness and a 21 per cent increase in connections and relationships. 

Two months into Tim Taylor’s term as Assistance Dogs Australia CEO, he went to a graduation ceremony for dogs trained by people at SQCC. He describes this experience as “transformative”. 

“What I experienced on that day was something that lit a bit of a flame for me,” Taylor says. 

The graduation involved a presentation showing homes where the dogs had been placed and whom they would be assisting. It also included comments from the person using the assistance dogs, thanking the SQCC participants for their work. 

“There was a genuine celebration of each person going up – I got goosebumps just experiencing it,” Taylor says. “There’s a genuine sense of pride at being able to give back and participate, and a connection with the outside world.” 

There are similar dogs in prisons programs run in most Australian states and territories, mostly in minimum security prisons with assistance dogs, greyhounds or foster animals. 

In Victoria, those at Beechworth Correctional Centre, Dhurringile and Tarrengower prisons can apply to care for a rescue dog while a forever home is found. 

In the Beechworth program, run in partnership with Wodonga Dog Rescue, up to 10 dogs are in the prison at any one time, with people in prison who are rated as a low security risk and towards the end of their sentence able to apply to care for them. 

In the programs at Dhurringile and Tarrengower, as well as the Dillwynia Correctional Centre in western Sydney, people in prison care for former racing greyhounds. 

Earlier this year, Tarrengower celebrated its 600th greyhound to be rehabilitated since the program began in 2009. During the four-week program, participants are responsible for feeding and exercising the dogs, and teaching them basic obedience skills. 

The CSNSW Dog Rehabilitation Program, run in partnership with RSPCA NSW and CSNSW, enables minimum security inmates to learn pet industry vocational skills, in an effort to help them find jobs at the end of their sentence. 

In Western Australia, the Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison for Women runs a program with Dogs Behind Bars Rescue where abandoned and unwanted dogs are placed with people in prison for up to 30 days, or until an appropriate home is found. 

Participating in the program means a different day-to-day life in prison. For Hayley, this involved being let out of her residential accommodation earlier than normal to take her dog out, and then scheduled training across the day, all of which she documented in a diary. 

Hayley was given a book to guide the training, which included different cues to teach the dogs, and sometimes professional trainers ran the program. Hayley and her dog were let out again at 10.30pm, later than usual. 

Hayley says programs such as these should be opened up to more people in prisons across the country. “I do agree this program needs to be pushed through many jails – it literally saved my life,” she says. 

Taylor says that Assistance Dogs Australia is now looking at expanding its Pups in Prison program. 

“I want more people in prison to participate,” he says. “I saw the good this program is doing and I absolutely want to take that further.” 

After being released from prison, Hayley lived near the correctional centre and worked with Assistance Dogs Australia to care for dogs from the prison on weekends. She is now working full-time with rescue greyhounds. 

“If you want to do the program, put your name down and speak up,” Hayley says. 

“You can definitely change the way you think – it’s all about hard work and putting the effort in.” 

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‘It saved my life’: The programs helping people in prison care for dogs

Denham Sadler

There is no doubt in Hayley’s mind about the importance of the program that allowed her to care for and train a dog while in prison. “It saved my life,” she says. 

Hayley had been incarcerated at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (SQCC) for 16 months before applying for its Pups in Prison program.

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