Program at Connecticut prison benefits inmates and puppies

Generic puppies

DANBURY, Conn. (AP) — Six inmates stood outside the Federal Correctional Institution last week, anxiously awaiting the prison’s newest residents.

The two arrivals seemed even happier than the women assembled to greet them, wagging their tails and licking the faces of their new companions.

It was the first day of a new dog training program at the prison’s minimum-security women’s camp.

The dogs were brought by Tails of Courage, a national dog rescue organization based in Danbury. They will be matched with inmates training to become dog handlers.

Each dog will stay with an inmate at all times until it is can be adopted.

“These dogs are going to have attention 24/7,” said Lynne Kelly, the facility’s executive assistant and camp administrator. “We’re hoping to give them some skills that make them more adoptable.”

The launching of the program was one of several activities held at the facility in the past few days to mark National Reentry Week, a new initiative by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The activities included a job fair, a seminar on how to start a business, presentations about programs available to offenders on supervised release and panel discussions on existing and new re-entry services.

“Basically, (inmates) have a network of services once they’re released from our custody,” Kelly said.

National Reentry Week events are being held in all 50 states. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut said the events are part of “an ongoing effort to make our criminal justice system fairer, more efficient and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities.”

“A major part of this commitment is assisting those who have served time in prison transition to being productive and law-abiding members of society,” U.S. Attorney for Connecticut Deirdre Daly said in a statement. “Too often, returning citizens face impregnable barriers as they compete for jobs, seek to attain stable housing and support their families.”

Through the new dog training program, Tails of Justice, two inmates already certified to handle dogs will each train two other inmates to raise a dog. The second inmate will be a backup handler when the primary handler is eating or showering.

After the inmates are done training, they will receive the same certification from the U.S. Department of Labor and will begin training other prisoners.

Kelly hopes the certification can help inmates find jobs in animal shelters, dog grooming facilities and similar businesses.

“This partly helps them do their time because they have the emotional connection to the animal,” Kelly said. “It helps them get through the day and it also gives them a marketable skill to find employment.”

One of the two certified trainers currently incarcerated at the Danbury prison is Linda Watkins, 55, who did a similar program while incarcerated in West Virginia. That program taught inmates to train service and therapy dogs.

“When I came here, I didn’t have a lot of patience,” she said. “And being in that program, I learned to have patience. I’ve become calmer and I actually want to help other people.”

Watkins, who also took a veterinarian technician’s course while in prison, hopes her new skills will help her find a job when she is released.

Kerry Seaman, the other certified dog trainer, was in a similar program that was given in the Danbury prison until last year. She said that program, which trained inmates to raise bomb-sniffing dogs, changed her experience behind bars, which she hopes to pass on to other prisoners.

“That program helped me get through my time here,” she said. “For me, getting this program started is to be able to leave something for the other ladies who come behind me… It’s almost like a second chance for the dog as well as a second chance for us.”

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Information from: The News-Times, http://www.newstimes.com

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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