In 2008, Patriot PAWS entered into an innovative partnership with a service dog training program inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Three TDCJ facilities participate in this program including the Lane Murray and Crain Women’s Correctional Units located in Gatesville, and the Boyd Men’s Correctional Unit in Fairfield. This partnership not only helps Patriot PAWS train more service dogs for disabled veterans, but creates career opportunities for inmates after their release and provides a way for them to give back to the community during their incarceration.
The Patriot PAWS/TDCJ parternship has exceeded all expectations and is widely considered to be one of the most successful programs of its type in the country.
FROM THE “INSIDE”
A Patriot PAWS Graduation is the happy culmination of a lot of hard work, and is always a meaningful event. When a fully-trained dog is finally teamed up with a disabled veteran, it’s cause for celebration! The inmate trainers play a crucial role in the training of these dogs but are unable to attend their graduations in Rockwall, where most of the graduations are held. So, Patriot PAWS took graduation on the road to prison.
In March 2012, 2 veterans, 1 active duty soldier and 1 non-veteran received their dogs over the span of 2 weeks inside the prison in Gatesville. The recipients worked directly with the inmate trainers as well as with the other Patriot PAWS trainers and various staff members and volunteers. It’s always an eye-opening experience for the recipients to meet the inmate trainers in the environment in which the dogs are trained. And it’s a source of pride for the inmate trainers to meet those whom the dogs they trained and grew to love will now serve. It’s a long time from application to receipt of a dog for the veteran, and an inmate trainer works with the dogs for 18 months to 2 years, so by the time Graduation Day arrives, recipients and inmate trainers alike are excited to finally experience what all the waiting and all the hard work was for. Many happy tears are shed on both sides, and a mutual respect for both service to country and service to others from behind bars is forged. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned.
The wardens and officers play an important support role in Patriot PAWS’ inmate trainer program, and to show how much they are appreciated, Patriot PAWS awarded them acrylic star plaques in a ceremony following the graduation. The cooperation of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice along with the support of the wardens and officers added to the hard work of the inmate trainers all help make Patriot PAWS the success that it is today.
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.