Illinois inmate Jennifer Lawson once was quick to anger and even assaulted a guard, but thanks to an innovative type of rehabilitation that pairs inmates with dogs, she is now considered a model prisoner, says the Chicago Tribune. “Working with a dog has helped me grow up, and it’s given me something to look forward to, which I have never had before,” said Lawson, 30, serving an 18-year sentence at Dwight Correctional Center for robbery and home invasion.
Lawson is among nine inmates at the state’s largest women’s prison who train dogs for the disabled, many of them children. More than 150 dogs have been placed since the first service animals arrived at the prison seven years ago. The dogs fill an emotional void for inmates, and the program has helped put many on a path to lasting rehabilitation, officials said. Only two of the 39 women who have trained dogs and completed their sentences returned to prison. Nearly half of all women released from Illinois prisons in 2001 were back behind bars within three years. “Many of us have household pets that bring a lot of love into the home, and it’s no different here,” said Warden Mary Sigler, who directs the Illinois Department of Correction’s dog-training project. “The inmates bond with these dogs and that bond serves the inmate and the dogs really well.”