Jail house flock

Benefits of prisoners being able to care for pets

source: J.D. Carpentieri
Guardian, Weekend August 25 2001 p65

Prisoners have traditionally been permitted to keep pets in many British jails, and it can bring great benefits, according to Elizabeth Ormerod, a vet who has researched this. Prisoners in a maximum security jail in Ohio, US, were found to be more cooperative and sociable, and staff discovered that they had been caring for a sick sparrow. Dog training programmes are especially beneficial, Ormerod argues. Purdy Correctional Centre for Women has a successful programme allowing women inmates to train abandoned dogs for rehoming. No woman involved in this programme has gone back to jail after her release. Prisons elsewhere are copying this scheme, and there are similar programmes in Australia, Spain, and South Africa, as well as other parts of the US.

The UK has lagged behind in terms of encouraging prisons to provide programmes involving pets. This is because politicians have sought to impose a tough regime in prisons, following the example set by Conservative politician, Michael Howard. Prison authorities have feared that such programmes might be understood as being too soft. Tabloid newspapers tend to reinforce such views, when they call for prisons to inspire terror.

Examples of governors’ fear of appearing to be soft on prisoners were found by Omerod, who discovered that fish were hidden during the visits of a minister of state. Meanwhile, a new governor at Garth prison, Lancashire, has declared the end of a programme whereby inmates bred budgies to be given to older people locally. Such a move is short-sighted as well as mean-spirited. Research shows that pets can help people to become nicer.