Canine CellMates is a jail dogs program that operates out of Fulton County Jail, in Atlanta, Georgia. The mission of Canine CellMates is to establish a continuing partnership between Fulton County Animal Services, the Fulton County Sheriffs Office and Fulton County Jail, and Canine CellMates to rehabilitate inmates housed at Fulton County Jail and homeless dogs from Fulton County Animal Services through a Good Behavior Incentive program. We want to give the inmate a productive new sense of hope and newly trained skills to care for and train shelter dogs, and give the dogs the skills they need in order to become adopted into and spend the rest of their lives in loving and caring homes.
There are in fact a couple of dozen programs across the country, and each one runs a little differently, but they all have some things in common. The commonalities are that dogs get saved that might otherwise have been euthanized. These dogs, or puppies in some programs, get trained and socialized and placed in loving homes. In some programs they are available for adoption, in others they go on to train as service dogs, and in some, they are placed in the homes of veterans who need a companion for various reasons. The inmate handlers get to learn responsibility in caring for a living creature, accountability in working towards a goal, and experience unconditional love and positive physical contact in an environment where those are not possible.
The incidence of violent outburst in prison and jail facilities where these program are in place has shown a dramatic decrease, sometimes as much as 50%. Recidivism rates have also shown marked improvements. The Atlanta metro area has one of the highest recidivism (or re-offend) rates in the country, around 70% within the first 2 years after release. In Gwinnett County, over 300 inmates have gone through this program to date, and only 6 or 7 of them have since re-offended, which is roughly 2.3%.
This is a program that has a huge ripple effect in the community, and that’s why we are so excited that this program launched in Fulton County Jail on June 3, 2013.