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Nature-based vocational programs in prisons

The aims are to identify best practices for implementing prison dog training programs and to measure the impacts of these programs on incarcerated individuals, dogs, and the broader community.

An estimated 2.3 million people were incarcerated in the United States in 2016, a significantly higher number than that of any other country in the world. Programs are needed that help to decrease prison populations and that promote the health and safety for staff and inmates. Dog training programs are prevalent in prisons across the US and are gaining popularity internationally. My research group is focused on identifying best practices for implementing these programs and on the impacts they have on inmates, staff and the dogs themselves.

"[The dog training program] teaches them [the dog handlers] …that they don’t always have to be on the defensive or tough and that it’s okay to show emotion and learn how to deal with it. The women come into the program so angry. Two years later, they are so different. They know how to talk to people and manage conflict.”

Psychosocial drivers behind improved in-prison outcomes for inmates participating in dog training programs

In a pilot study conducted in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Corrections, statistically significant decreases in infraction rates, an indicator of safety within the prison environment, were found for inmates who participated in dog training programs compared to inmates not involved in dog training. Additionally, dog program participants had significantly lower anxiety were approaching statistical significance for higher empathy.

Standardizing prison dog training program implementation

One of the challenges to this field of work is the lack of standardized intervention protocols and identified outcomes. IHAC Research worked in collaboration with prison dog training programs across the US to identify common and best practices for implementing dog training programs in both US and international correctional environments. 


Measuring the impacts of prison dog training programs on recidivism rates

IHAC Research is now working with department of corrections in two states in the US to measure the impacts of prison dog training programs on rates of recidivism. This analysis uses propensity score matching to statistically match incarcerated individuals who participated in dog programs to individuals who did not. This allows for measurement of the potential efficacy of dog training programs in supporting individuals to remain in the community post-release, leading to greater individual outcomes and cost savings.