unlikely mix of inmates and rescued dogs are leaning on
each other for emotional support at the James I.
Montgomery Correctional facility.
of a University of North Florida class, Professor
Jennifer Wesely teaches students about the role of
canines in inmate rehabilitation.
students are required to step out of the classroom to
meet inmates participating in the program. For many
students, it was the first time they were exposed to the
Montgomery allowed UNF students and inmates to engage in
a discussion to challenge their own beliefs about inmate
justice major Mikenzie Oldham said the program gave her
direction, and helped her realize she could mesh her
interests together; which are training dogs and helping
students observed the canine-intervention program called
Teaching Animals and Inmates Life skills (TAILS). The
program is a collaboration between the Jacksonville
Sheriff’s office, the Florida Department of
Corrections and the animal rescue non-profit, Pit
Deane, the founder of Pit Sisters, recognized the lack
of a pit bull shelter in Jacksonville and — wanting to
change their reputations as a violent breed — started
the program, eventually taking in other dogs once the
inmates get assigned a dog rescued from fighting rings,
abusive owners and bad living situations and they are
given the opportunity to retrain their behavior using
are provided with two owners who essentially foster the
dogs until they are trained so they can be put up for
adoption. Not only do the dogs benefit from the
situation, but the inmates are forced to regiment their
lives, and care for a dog that relies on them for love,
support and training.
bull, Tank, was seized from his former owners and is now
currently being looked after by inmate Steven Williams.
beginning he looked terrible but now he is lively and
looks good.” Williams said, “It’s nice, life is
better when you have someone to talk to and he
this process, many inmates reflected on the changes in
the dogs, as well as the personal impact training the
dogs has had on their outlook on life.
Levar Franklin exemplifies the changes, as he displayed
the tricks he taught Bella, his canine counterpart. Bell
was the first dog in the program at the Montgomery
Correctional facility. The dog started the program May
Ms. Bell,” said Franklin, “Ms. Bell changed me.
Instead of thinking about negative stuff, I work with my
teaching Ms. Bell tricks, many of the inmate trainers
have learned patience, and how to care for an animal.
keeps me working and busy so I don’t have to worry
about anything negative and it’s always about her as
long as it’s about her, I’ll be alright, because I
love her and she loves me. And you got to be
persistent,” Franklin said.
isn’t the only one who noticed the positive change
JSO officer and director of TAILS program, and several
other officers have observed an increase in the positive
attitudes of inmates as well as increased respect
between officers and inmates.
don’t get to know (inmates) so well, (this way)
you’re able to sit down and talk to them and mentor
them and get to know them on a personal level,” said
Irre, “The program improves correctional and prisoner
relationships and helps them, (inmates) will listen if
you give them advice.”
usually the biggest problem with rehabilitation programs
is they don’t teach life skills that inmates need time
management, social skills, and discipline. More times
than not, prisoners share the same negative attitude
when they entered jail as they leave.
different about the canine rehabilitation is that it has
had a transformative effect on the motivations of the
inmates in the facility after they leave, say the
release, Franklin intends to continue to work with dogs
to help train them, and wants to start by volunteering.