CRIMS BECOME CONTRIBUTORS: Prisoners train assistance dogs
IT CAN be a 'ruff' life serving time behind bars but some inmates at the Maryborough Correctional Centre are making the most of it by training assistance dogs.
Canines Hope and Hank are the first graduates of the pilot program, which has helped turn criminals into contributors.
Inmates taught the two assistance dogs to do tasks like turn on lights, take off shoes and pick up items.
Hope and Hank will now use their skills to help a child with a disability.
For the past 10 months, allocated inmates took the dogs through a prestigious training program.
There are four more dogs now being trained at the centre, with plans of another intake soon.
Seeing the dogs progress has had a profound effect on the prisoners, a Queensland Correctional Centre spokesperson said.
"There were mixed emotions at the graduation with the dogs leaving, but the overriding feeling was one of satisfaction," they said.
"The prisoners were played a DVD showing testimony from parents of children who have previously received a dog.
"The response from the prisoners in attendance was that it 'tore at the heart to watch' but made them realise they were volunteering for a service that was making a real difference to people's lives."
One prisoner has expressed that he would like to pursue a career that involves caring for animals after release.
The program was conducted in partnership with dog training organisation Smart Pups.
Smart Pups CEO Patricia McAlister said one of the reasons that the prison was an ideal spot to send the dogs was that the inmates had the time required to train them.
"It starts off with basic obedience and then gets more intense," she said.
"There are two inmates assigned to each dog so if one is working, it can still be looked after.
"The dogs are very popular in the prison and get a lot of attention."
But of course, there are some challenges of growing up in a prison environment.
"The dogs sleep with the inmates and sometimes they're in there longer than they can last," Ms McAlister said.
"So they have to go to toilet on synthetic grass."
HOW THE TRAINING WORKS
Each dog that enters the correctional centre under the program gets allocated two trainers.
A prisoner must make a written application to be eligible to become a puppy handler.
"Their general behaviour is considered and they cannot have made any recent breaches of prison rules," a QCS spokesperson said.
"Another prerequisite is that they must be employed within the correctional centre and commit to continuing their work."
Prisoners' previous commitment to work duties and study is also taken into account.
For the allocated inmates, training the dogs Monday to Friday is a voluntary activity.
Prison officers and families foster the pups on weekends, which allows them to receive community socialisation outside of the prison environment.