Saturday, January 29, 2011

Death-Row Dogs Helping Jail Birds

Pic: John Grainger

CONVICTED murderer Emma Barrett faces 13 more years behind bars - but she hopes saving dogs from death row helps save herself.

The inmate of Dillwynia women's prison is part of a revolutionary program in which hundreds of prisoners will have access to dogs inside jail to test whether caring for the animals makes them less likely to reoffend.

Already those in a pilot trial said it had turned their lives around and given them a new sense of responsibility.

The eight-week program was the brainchild of Corrective Services boss Ron Woodham, an animal lover who was fascinated with a similar scheme operating in the US.

It was hoped that the affection and responsibility involved in caring for the animals would prepare inmates, who must also complete a TAFE course in animal handling, for life on the outside. The selected prisoners are given a dog bound for death row. They care for it, train it and seven weeks later hand the dog over to a family on the outside.

Barrett, one of six women to care for rescued greyhounds, said the program helped her cope with life in jail, where she's been for almost three years.

"It's given me satisfaction knowing I'm helping the dog go to a home instead of being put down," she said.

"(The dog also) gives you love back. You can't be (loving) in jail. No one in here is really honest, loyal and loving."

Eventually the program will extend to rescuing other dogs due to being euthanased by the RSPCA, with the prison housing up to 50 animals.

The neighbouring Outer Metropolitan Multi-Purpose Correctional Centre will also take up to 200 dogs to be cared for by male prisoners.

Despite the attachment they inevitably develop, security manager Leanne O'Toole said the prisoners were prepared to let the dogs go.



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