CRESAPTOWN, Md. —
Barba, 62, was interviewed at the prison in November. He was released Dec. 17 after serving 33 years for murder. Each prison puppy is assigned both a trainer and an alternate, so Dill’s training wasn’t interrupted.
The dogs spend their weekends at nearby private homes to experience life on the outside — things such as shopping malls, traffic lights and ordinary household chaos.
The prison, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains about 140 miles west of Baltimore, was the first to receive dogs under the Maryland program. Since then, six have arrived at Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore, and four at the Maryland Correctional Institution near Hagerstown, Division of Correction spokeswoman Erin Julius said.
More than 120 inmates at the three prisons have applied to participate, although some haven’t yet cleared a selection process that bans known gang members and anyone with a record of child or animal abuse.
The number of prison puppy programs is growing, said Corey Hudson, president of the North American chapter of Assistance Dogs International, a group that establishes and promotes training standards. He estimated that 30 of ADI’s approximately 90 U.S. members have such programs. They include 13 run by Hudson’s nonprofit organization, Canine Companions for Independence, at institutions ranging from the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio, to the military’s Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Hudson said prison-raised dogs graduate at a slightly higher level than those reared in traditional settings. A Tufts University study of 397 assistance dogs that entered training between 1999 and 2004 found that those raised in prisons needed less polishing and succeeded at a higher rate: 76 percent versus 61 percent for home-raised dogs.
“I would say the more prison programs we can have, the better,” Hudson said. “When they’re in the prison, that’s their major focus, 16 to 18 hours a day.”