Polmont inmates to train dogs in bid to boost behaviour
The first prison-based dog training scheme in the UK is being introduced at Polmont Young Offenders Institute near Falkirk.
Young male inmates will be paired with dogs with behavioural problems which need to be trained and rehabilitated in order to be rehomed.
Elizabeth Ormerod said the scheme had proven successful among prisoners in other countries.
She said it had reduced aggression, violence and self-harm among inmates.
Ms Ormerod is a vet who has helped introduce human-animal bond programmes in residential care facilities, sheltered housing, schools, hospitals, psychiatric units and prisons.
She now chairs the Society for Companion Animal Studies, which is organising the scheme at Polmont.
It is Scotland's largest young offenders institution, with more than 700 inmates.
The dog programme, being developed by the University of Stirling in association with the Scottish Prison Service and Dogs Trust, is aimed at changing behaviour among inmates there, and reducing reconviction rates.
Ms Ormerod said dogs from the Dog's Trust animal shelter would be selected for training.
She said: "In other countries, they've found that if you pair a youth with behavioural problems with a dog with behavioural problems and demonstrate to the youth how to train the dog using praise and encouragement rather than punishment and force, then you can actually change the young offender's own behaviour."
There are currently 65 prison-based dog training programmes in the US.
Ms Ormerod said the best known overseas programme similar to the Polmont scheme is Project Pooch, which was founded in Oregon in 1993.
"University researchers monitored the behaviour of young men after they left prison," she added.
"They monitored 100 men over 10 years and none of them had reoffended."
Joan Dalton, the Project Pooch founder, said: "I am delighted to have been invited to share what we have learned over the last 15 years at Project Pooch as this programme kicks off in the UK.
"The dogs leave the programme ready to be great pets, while their trainers re-enter the community with new job and personal skills, as well as increased compassion.
"Our research on the effectiveness of the US programme reveals a marked improvement in behavioural patterns both during and after imprisonment, including a remarkable zero reconviction rate following their release into the community."
Ms Ormerod said the parallels between the dog and the inmates' behaviour was key to its success.
"The person with behavioural problems manages the dog's behaviour, sees a change in it and realise that they themselves can change," she said.
She said there was also a positive outcome for the dogs, with adoption rates increasing among retrained canines.