The Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN)—an emerging nonprofit of 12 dedicated employees founded in 2002— and is the only training program accredited by Assistance Dog International (ADI) in Indiana; and only one of 90 throughout entire North America.
And while we rely heavily on volunteers to support our dogs’ training, the majority of our service dogs are trained by incarcerated individuals at three Indiana prisons: Pendleton Correctional Facility, a level three maximum security adult male facility; Correctional Industrial Facility, a medium security adult male facility; and the Indiana Women’s Prison, a maximum security adult female facility.
Our organization prides itself on being as much of a rehabilitation program for incarcerated individuals as it does an organization assisting adults and children with disabilities.
Our proven prison program helps our inmate handlers move beyond their mistakes, find purpose, gain hope, and learn the skills they need to successfully return to the community—all by training service dogs that help someone else.
“Although we must hold offenders responsible for their behavior, we must provide them opportunities to learn skills to help them become productive and responsible citizens,” said ICAN President and CEO Jillian Ashton. “One day, these people will be our neighbors, our coworkers. There’s no reason not to want to encourage them to be the best possible version of themselves.”
Currently, ICAN has more than 50 incarcerated individuals in apprenticeship training roles with their organization. These men and women train service dogs to support clients with mobility assistance needs, psychiatric support for veterans, and facility service dogs.
The offenders learn to train the dogs by working alongside ICAN’s program team. These full-time trainers go inside the facilities and lead weekly in-person classes with the inmate handlers.
ICAN puppies enter the prison system at 16 weeks old and remain with their inmate handlers until they reach approximately two years of age. During that time, the young dogs rotate between prison and entering the community with volunteers, including six-week increments with their inmate handlers at a correctional facility and three-week increments outside with ICAN volunteers.
When the dogs go on furlough, the inmate handlers send them off with a detailed progress report for the partnering ICAN volunteers to review. These notes are critical as they help the furloughers understand specific cues and behaviors they need to continue working on with the dogs in new environments.
Current offenders have called ICAN “life-changing,” and many say “they would be lost without it.”
And while the success of our program can be measured by our handlers’ testimonials, these statistics speak for themselves: ICAN handlers have a recidivism rate of 14.5% compared to the state’s 33.82% rate.
Since 2010, 48 former ICAN handlers have left the prison and returned to our communities.
ICAN handlers are also more likely to secure employment after they are released because of the education and experience they obtain as ICAN trainers. Since 2015, 24 released handlers have been employed in animal-related industries such as training, grooming, boarding services, or shelter/rescue work.
Lastly, ICAN successfully prepares offenders to reintegrate with their families. That’s because our training model for service dogs is based on positive reinforcement—the same method used for teaching effective parenting and interpersonal skills.
This year, ICAN anticipates adding ten more incarcerated trainers to support our nearly 60 active service dogs in training.
Our goal is to help unleash as many abilities—on both sides of the leash—as we can.
To learn more about ICAN, visit icandog.org.