WHERE OFFENDERS TRAIN ASSISTANCE DOGS FOR THE FUTURE
Welcome to Restart Dogs, we are vocational education program with a social value built in. We provide skill development and purposeful activity to custodial settings. We train adult prisoners/offenders to become assistance dog trainers during their time serving sentences in prison estates, helping to create a changed social identity.
In providing modern, positive reinforcement-based training to the dogs on the programme, the prisoners promote responsible animal welfare and effective dog training without violence and confrontation, leading to learners increased empathy, self-regulation, social skills, compassion, responsibility and respect.
The people on the Restart Dog Project have, through attachment and interaction with the dogs, gained insights into identifying their own behaviour and the skills to change. Understanding the emotional capacity of the dogs and how this affects their behaviour offers a greater insight into how prisoners/offenders manage their own feelings of frustration and self-control. The skills learnt during the programmes have been a key part of the graduates’ social reintegration. At the same time, the prisoners have the opportunity to become well trained professionals within the dog training industry gaining qualifications up to a Level 4.
The programme is not funded by the taxpayer, and instead is paid for by the Prisoners Fund, which is raised by work that Prisoners undertake during their time in the custodial system for other organisations. Prisoners who apply to participate in the Restart Dogs program need be engaged in rehabilitation programs and be engaging in the prison system. Our objectives are to develop selected prisoners as dog trainers, to produce dogs suitable as assistance dogs for people in need. As one of our participants eloquently said;
“I have lost my freedom, but I can actually help someone else to get theirs back”
We work closely with charities and community groups such as Moorlands Dog Rescue.
Assistance dogs are trained to support people with disabilities and people with medical conditions in a variety of ways. They may be there to alert the person to early changes in their health, such as diabetes or epilepsy, or they may assist with daily living tasks such as unloading the washing machine, opening doors, or passing objects to a wheelchair user.
Assistance dogs need to be highly trained, often taking two to three years to train a dog to accomplish all the tasks it needs to perform for their handler. This means there can be a long waiting time an assistance dog, taking between two and five years before a new partnership is formed.
Dog prison programs have been established in prison settings around the world for many decades. Their therapeutic benefits have been well researched, documented and hold clinical evidence.
1. Reduction in Drug Use: If the Restart Dog Program reduces drug use among prisoners, it can lead to various benefits, such as improved health, decreased violence, and increased rehabilitation prospects.
2. Increase in Social Skills: The Restart Dog program helps prisoners develop and improve their social skills, which can enhance their chances of successful reintegration into society.
3. Social Values Embedded as Assistance Dogs: If the program trains prisoners to work with animals and produce assistance dogs, it can provide valuable skills and contribute to society by helping people in need. The monetary value of this benefit can be significant, as trained assistance dogs often have high costs associated with their training and placement.
4. Improved Prisoner Behaviour: The Restart Dog program positively impacts prisoner behaviour, resulting in reduced violence, disciplinary issues, or incidents, there can be cost savings associated with maintaining prison security and managing disruptive behaviour. These cost savings, though challenging to estimate precisely, can be substantial.
5. Reduced Risk of Individual Prisoners: The Restart Dog program successfully reduces the risk and enables individual prisoners to move to lower security estates or transition to community-based programs earlier, it can lead to cost savings. Lower security estates generally incur lower operational costs compared to higher security ones.
6. Education; The Restart Dog program offers prisoners a chance to gain a Level 4 in Canine Behaviour and Training, allowing them to set up their own businesses on release, or to secure gainful employment
7. Business Skills and Employability: Restart Dogs prepares prisoners for employment by facilitating industry profession connections with visiting high profile dog trainers. Restart Dogs supports training classes run by the prisoners to upskill their communication and professional profile and identities.
For the program to be successful it requires support from a multi-disciplinary team on site, ranging from Mental Health, Resettlement, and safer custodies.
Handlers selected must have demonstrated a level of trustworthiness and good behaviour during their time in the institution to be considered for participation in the program. In addition, prisoners may be required to have a certain length of sentence yet to serve, as raising and training an assistance dog can take up to two years, and consistency of the handler can be key for their success. Engaging with the training team and their educational studies is mandatory to progress on the program, studying Canine behaviour and training up to a level 6. You can read more about safety & welfare by visiting our dedicated page here.
The program is overseen by experienced industry professionals, able to coach the prisoners in both practical skills and theoretical concepts, supported in their assessments by a qualified teacher. During the working week (Monday – Friday) the puppies are secure in a purpose-built classroom away from the main prison estate. They have their own sleeping pen, where they can get undisturbed rest.
We are so lucky to have the support of School of Canine Science, who supply our learners with courses on dog behaviour and training. The courses are easy to access and cater for learners of all levels, as many of our learners have not been in formal education for many years. The programs are a mixture of lectures and reading, all allowing the program to be learner lead, which in turn builds confidence back for people who may not have engaged in formal education. You can learn more about the School of Canine Science here.
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