WHERE PRISONERS/OFFENDERS TRAIN ASSISTANCE DOGS FOR THE COMMUNITY
Welcome to Restart Dogs, we are a restorative justice program providing education and skill development to custodial settings. We train prisoners/offenders to become assistance dog trainers during their time serving sentences in prison estates, both in adult and youth custody, turning criminals into contributors.
In providing modern, positive reinforcement based training to dogs on the programme, the offenders 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/offenders have the opportunity to become well trained professionals within the dog training industry gaining qualifications up to a Level 6, which is a foundation degree. 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/offenders 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, by raising and training potential assistance dogs or retraining rescue dogs.
Assistance dogs are trained to support disabled people 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 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.
We hope that by making use of the prison population we may be able to reduce the waiting time for some people.
The Equality Act 2010, (EA2012 section 173) lays out that in relation to protecting the rights of disabled people accessing private hire transport, an Assistance dog means
(a) a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person;
(b) a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person;
(c) a dog which has been trained by a prescribed charity to assist a disabled person who has a disability that consists of epilepsy or otherwise affects the person’s mobility, manual dexterity, physical coordination or ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects;
(d) a dog of a prescribed category which has been trained to assist a disabled person who has a disability (other than one falling within paragraph (c)) of a prescribed kind.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that assistance dogs:
are highly trained
will not wander freely around the premises
will sit or lie quietly on the floor next to its owner and are trained to go to the toilet on command and so are unlikely to foul in a public place
Most are instantly recognisable by the harness or identifying dog jacket they wear.
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.
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.