Pioneer Pride

Gennifer Furst

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When Gennifer Furst, an associate professor of sociology, first learned about animals being used in prisons, it was the image of smiling women with young Labradors at a maximum-security prison that captured her attention.  “You never see smiling faces at a correctional facility,” she says.

Furst is the author of Animal Programs in Prison, the first comprehensive look at prison-based animal programs.  In her book, Furst explores how animals are used in correctional facilities and the benefits of human-animal interaction. In one program, dogs deemed unadoptable in shelters are brought to prisons for an eight-week training program.  In other programs, inmates train dogs to meet the huge demand for work and service animals, such as dogs that sniff for explosives or assist people with disabilities.  In some parts of the country, such as the Midwest, a prisoner might be given the task to “break,” or socialize, a wild horse.

“The power of animals is amazing,” says Furst. When visiting a “puppy unit” in a men’s prison, she saw kindness and hope, men smiling and taking pride in their work with the animals.  “They were eager to show us what they and the dogs had accomplished,” she says.  Participation in these programs helps reduce rates of recidivism, “calms” the facility, eases relationships between inmates and guards, improves the health of prisoners, and motivates good behavior to earn the privilege of working with animals.

It’s a win-win combination, says Furst. Non-profit organizations bring in the animals and pay all expenses.  These programs cost no money and take up very little space, she explains.

While animals are increasingly being incorporated into programs inside prisons and are regarded as successful, Furst notes that criminal justice researchers have largely ignored the trend. With this book, Furst hopes to shed more light on “this bright spot in an otherwise dark area of society, which is how we punish people.”

Furst is the coordinator of the criminal justice program at William Paterson.  She holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the City University of New York Graduate