In my view the penal system cares very little about its inmates or indeed about the public’s safety. Here in Australia it seems to be about keeping these guys, and of course guys is what most convicts are, in a place where they can’t commit any more crime. In places like the US it seems to be mostly about wringing corporate profits out of human misery.
What happens with most criminals, even the nonviolent ones, is that the system basically throws them away. While inside very little effort is put into trying to rehabilitate these guys, and when they come out they very often find it hard to get work and on top of that they have to put up with the stigma of being an ex-con. In a welfare state like Australia the lack of work simply means having a lower standard of living, in a country like the US it often comes down to a matter of survival, and will often leave the newly released convict with no choice but to re-offend.
There are however, some good programs aimed at rehabilitating convicts and in Australia one such is Pups in Prison. Run by Assistance Dogs Australia, the program uses men convicted of low-level offenses to train dogs that provide aid to the disabled by opening doors, flicking on light switches – the kind of thing that most able-bodied people take for granted. And I should point out that these men are from minimum security, so don’t worry – no one is giving a serial killer a puppy!
Training these dogs helps in the men’s rehabilitation by giving them skills that they may be able to use to get a legitimate source of income once they have left the jail, but the benefits seem to be mostly on the psychological level. As one inmate puts it…
“For the first time in years it will allow us to show softness, tenderness and affection. Caring for these dogs will help us rekindle certain feelings and emotions, help us lighten up and bring a little more humanity into our lives…
Instead of taking from society, it [the Pups in Prison Program] provides us with an opportunity to actually give back. From criminal to contributor.
“It [the Pups in Prison Program] has a win-win-win-win aspect to it. It will help us inmates, it will help Assistance Dogs Australia, it will help people with special needs and it will also help the prison environment, by improving self esteem and empathy levels among inmates, increase positive behaviours and moods, create better relationships between staff and inmates and open up more opportunities for education, training and employment…”
Nothing being perfect, Pups In Prison won’t have a beneficial effect on all of these men but it will on some and that’s good enough for me, so as long as it’s not being used to make life easier for seriously violent offenders and as long as no one decides to give Michael Vick one of these dogs, it’s a piece of good news in an otherwise bleak situation.
One of the convicts in this video seems to be wearing a pair of sneakers that mysteriously disappeared from my closet a few months ago, I assume however that this is a mere coincidence….