Canines invaded Eastern State Penitentiary over the weekend for its Pets in Prison event which helped educate the public about the history of animals living behind bars. The event was inspired by the penitentiary’s former non-human inmates, particularly Pep the “cat-murdering” dog.
New Leash on Life USA, a program which is designed to help both at-risk dogs and inmates, brought dogs to the event as an educational and interactive activity for visitors. The dog-training program is currently in two prisons right now, the Philadelphia Prison System and SCI Graterford.
“It’s a very intense and very expensive program, but it’s paying off because now we have inmates who are getting out and getting jobs instead of going back,” said Marian Marchese, president and chief executive officer of New Leash on Life USA. “So our recidivism rate is half of what it is at the normal program.”
At these two prisons it’s not unusual to walk by a cell and see two bunks accompanied by a dog crate. For 12 weeks, dogs between the ages of one and two spend their time in a cell with the inmates.
The program’s mission is to assimilate inmates back into society after concluding their sentence and increasing the probability of adoption for at-risk dogs through training and socialization.
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” said board member Sharon Smith.
Throughout the program’s short-life span, 34 dogs have graduated and 33 of them were adopted. Three of the dogs are now trained as service dogs. There have been 68 inmates who have gone through the program and 63 of them graduated. New Leash on Life USA follows up with the inmates after their release to help them find jobs if they’re having trouble.
The social skills learned by both the inmates and the dogs were on display throughout the penitentiary. The dogs go everywhere with their incarcerated handlers.
“The dogs are just running around, frolicking with all the different guys and they’re all petting them and everybody had a smile on their face,” said board member Ruth McMahon.
Eastern State Penitentiary will be holding a second Pets in Prison weekend on Saturday, August 17 and 18. General admission tickets can be purchased online or at the door.