South Central Correctional Center offender handler John Hollandsworth prepares to give a treat to his dog Floyd, who is enrolled in The Animal Shelter of Texas County's Healing Paws program as part of the Missouri Department of Corrections' Puppies for Parole program.

During a ceremony recently at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Gov. Jay Nixon commended the Missouri Department of Corrections’ Puppies for Parole program, in which inmates provide obedience training to shelter dogs once considered to be unadoptable. The ceremony marked the training and adoption of 4,000 dogs through the program since its inception in 2010.

Missouri’s Puppies for Parole program is the largest at any U.S. state corrections department. It operates at the South Central Correctional Center at Licking in cooperation with The Animal Shelter of Texas County.

The Puppies for Parole program began as a pilot program at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in February 2010 and has been expanded to 19 of Missouri’s 21 correctional centers. Of the 4,000 dogs that have completed the program, 95 percent have been adopted by families, with the others being adopted by veterans’ homes, nursing homes and mental health facilities across Missouri.

Almost 2,200 offenders have participated in the program, which is voluntary. Offenders who participate in the program have significantly fewer conduct violations while in the program compared with the rest of the offender population. Participants are enrolled in an apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor. Through formal training, individualized study and hands-on training, program participants can earn a certificate in animal handling, which is recognized in all 50 states. Puppies for Parole operates without the use of taxpayer dollars, exclusively utilizing private donations and donations from offender organizations.

“Puppies for Parole provides offenders with a positive and meaningful experience that helps them transition back to being productive members of their communities once released,” Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi said. “It also provides a calming influence in our correctional institutions because many offenders get a chance to interact with the dogs besides the handlers.”

The Missouri Department of Corrections works with animal shelters across the state, which provide dogs that are often unwanted due to socialization or obedience problems. Offender-handlers train the dogs in basic obedience to make them more adoptable.

In 2011, People magazine profiled the Puppies for Parole program in a feature that included to the story of “Sparky,” a miniature dachshund that was deaf. After Missouri Department of Corrections’ offenders taught Sparky basic commands through American Sign Language, he was adopted by Missouri School for the Deaf where he soon became an inspiration to students and staff at the K-12 school.

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