In 2008, Patriot PAWS expanded its service dog training program to include a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Three TDCJ facilities are participating in the program and include the Lane Murray and the Crain Women’s Correctional Units located in Gatesville, Texas. In 2014 we expanded into our first Men's Correctional Unit at the Boyd Unit in Fairfield, Texas. The partnership is intended to provide help not only for disabled veterans, but opportunities for inmates to have a job while serving their sentence, learning a career trade and giving back to the community.
The goal of the program is to train prison inmates to train service dogs for disabled veterans. It takes 1½-2 years to train one service dog at a cost of about $33,000 per dog. The program’s development has exceeded all expectations, all of the organization’s goals are being met and the partnership with TDCJ is excellent.
The Patriot PAWS training program for inmates is ongoing. Our certified service dog trainers work with the inmates and their dogs at the correctional institutions on a weekly basis. In addition, the Executive Director, Lori Stevens, and her trainer assistants hold training classes for the inmates at the correctional facilities once a week. The inmates live with their dogs in dormitory-like space in each unit, which includes outdoor areas for the dogs. There is also a shared training facility onsite.
The inmates learn how to teach all of the required basic service dog behaviors. Inmates are tested quarterly using an evaluation form to determine their capability to train the dogs in the 55 behaviors required for certification. Inmates that are more advanced in their training become mentors for new inmates entering the program.
Benefits Are Extensive
The benefits for the inmates and society are extensive. In this program, inmates are taught a skill set (training service dogs) that can be used immediately upon their release back into the community/society as a means for employment. This will have a direct impact on reducing the Texas recidivism (re-offender) rate. Another accomplishment that exemplifies the Patriot PAWS program’s importance and worth is helping inmates re-enter society and become productive individuals. Patriot PAWS has hired two recently released inmate trainers to train service dogs at the Rockwall Training Center. It is important to point out that since the start of the program in 2008, the recidivism rate is less than 3%. This program has provided Patriot PAWS the ability to not only assist disabled American veterans but also to benefit inmates in overcoming challenges associated with life in prison while building a team focused on the mission to give back to the community. This is a “win-win” for everyone. To see how this program has changed inmates’ lives, look at their own personal testimonies on our YouTube Channel.The quality and commitment of the Patriot PAWS organization, and its record to date, clearly demonstrate its place in making a difference in America. It is clear that this program is on track to become a nationwide example for changing the lives of disabled veterans, animals and those incarcerated.