Canine rehabilitation program helps inmates transition back into society

New UNF class studies inmate dog rehab

FLORIDA — For the past five years, the James I. Montgomery Correctional Center has used a rehabilitation program to help inmates learn new life-skills for life after incarceration.

Teaching Animals & Inmates Life Skills, rescues abandoned or abused canines for the program. It works with four facilities in Northeast Florida: Baker Correctional Institution, Montgomery Correctional Center, Lawtey Correctional Initiation, Institution and Bridges of Jacksonville.

Its goal is to raise, socialize and care for canines that are considered hard to adopt. So far, every dog trained at the Montgomery Correctional Center has been adopted.

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“People abandoned her, gave up on her like some people will give up on us,” Levar Franklin, an inmate, said. “You always have to have hope from somebody.”

Inmates must apply for the program through the Jacksonville’s Sheriff’s Office. They are selected based on certain criteria for handling an animal.


“The men who are in this program are going to get out, they’re going to be released,” Officer Lisa Irre said. “Why not give them the skills that they need when they’re here to be more successful when they get out?”

Irre is the canine coordinator for the facility. The program is completely sponsored by Pit Sisters.

Each inmate who completes the program will earn a dog training certificate. Irre said some have gone on to work at shelters and become veterinary technicians.

University of North Florida students have become the latest addition to the cause.

For the first time, UNF professor of criminology and criminal justice, Dr.  Jennifer Wesely created and now teaches a course designed to study the role of canines with at-risk people.

It is a three-part summer elective course, which students must apply to join. The third stage includes questioning inmates in TAILS on their experience with the program.

“They’re seeing that these guys need to be humanized,” Wesely said. “They need tools to help them get back out into society. So this has really been an eye-opener for students in a lot of ways to really see rehabilitation is important, and we can do that through these programs with the dogs.”

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