Dogs have the power to inspire, offer hope, give love and teach us valuable lessons about life. We all need that sometimes. We’re also all capable of giving something back. That’s why, for over a decade, we’ve partnered with Indiana correctional facilities to successfully train and place our service dogs.
Although society must hold offenders responsible for their behavior, we also need to provide them opportunities to learn skills that can help them grow into productive and responsible citizens. Effective programming, like ICAN, that provides job training and employment skills reduces the likelihood of recidivism while helping to transition the offender back into our community.
Carefully screened female and male offenders living inside medium and maximum security Indiana correctional facilities train ICAN dogs for up to two years. We call them handlers.
Dogs-in-training live side-by-side with their handlers inside the correctional facility. By taking responsibility for the dog 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for nearly 2 years, handlers in the ICAN program learn a variety of professional and life management skills to help them with successful re-entry into their communities. In addition to the work with their handlers, each dog is removed regularly to take part in ICAN’s community-based furloughs where the dog learns the ways of the world in which they will ultimately work.
Positive Impact on Offender and Family
ICAN focuses as much effort on training serviced dogs as we do on educating inmates. The handlers develop life skills such as responsibility and accountability, compassion, teamwork, pride, self-esteem, unconditional love, discipline, and the use of logic over emotion to achieve goals. They then bring these skills into their communities upon re-entry into society.
Throughout all training is a strong theme – What are the parallels between interacting with dogs and interacting with our peers and families? We encourage ICAN inmate handlers to apply the same principles of developing a respectful and trusting relationship with their dog to interacting with their children and family members.
ICAN inmate handlers report that they have more positive and sustained interactions on visits with their children. For example, They are able to have their dog in training with them for family visits. The dog acts as a bridge for the inmate and their children to connect and to feel part of each other’s world. Inmates are able to show their children what the dogs know and then “coach” their children in how to work with the dog. This creates a wonderful shared experience that transcends prison walls.
Once a handler acquires 3,600 hours in training and education, they receive a Certificate in Assistance Dog Training from the Department of Labor. Today, many released offenders who trained under the ICAN program are productively employed in animal-related professions and serve their community.