The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" October 2002
Research Theme: "The Significance and Results of Prison Pet Programs: Centered on the Activities in Canada"
By Mari Hirayama
Graduate School of Law
Kwansei Gakuin University
In other countries, animal-assisted activities are used in a wide range of settings. In the United States and Canada, for instance, prison pet programs have been introduced, which involve the care and raising of animals by inmates of correctional facilities. Mari Hirayama, a graduate student in the Law Department at Kwansei Gakuin University, conducted a study of these programs. Noting the recent increase in crime among juveniles and in particular the increase in atrocious youth crimes, Hirayama, herself a student of criminal and juvenile law, is concerned with the lack of empathy among suspects in custody for the lives of others, and their diminished sense of respect for other living things. Her presentation included the results of a hearing survey conducted in Canadian correctional facilities.

Hirayama visited four correctional facilities and interviewed both the staff and inmates involved in the programs. “In one women’s correctional facility in Vancouver,” she noted, “the program comprised a business. Ordinary consumers leave their dogs with the inmates, who are responsible for providing proper pet care and training dogs that behave badly to acquire necessary social skills. There is also a dog grooming salon, making it possible for inmates to acquire qualifications as pet hotel staff, pet hotel managers, assistant groomers, groomers, pet trainers and other positions. Acquiring permits for the latter two jobs makes an inmate particularly likely to find employment upon release from prison. And the meticulous care provided by the inmates got particularly high marks from consumers, so that they were regularly fully booked despite the fact that the services were not announced or advertised.”

The interviews conducted by Hirayama make abundantly clear the change of heart that participants experienced between their enrollment in the program and their completion of it. According to one inmate whose imprisonment was related to domestic violence, “To love another, and to be loved is the ultimate good.” Hirayama also noted that a woman imprisoned in another penal institution for killing her own child showed extraordinary affection for the kitten she was taking care of.

“Giving love to another is a wonderful thing. This is a program that can save lives. I've come to feel emotions I never experienced before,” she said. The study shows how taking care of animals enables inmates to develop a sense of responsibility, carry out their own responsibilities, and thereby acquire a new self-confidence. At the same time, it can be said that contact with animals eases the tension the inmates feel and instills them with tranquility.

Of course, in introducing such programs it is very important to be careful about the rights and welfare of the animals and inmates. All of the correctional institutions Hirayama visited maintain relationships with animal welfare organizations, which acted as monitors. Without thus checking on the programs, there is a danger that that the animals could simply be exploited to serve in the process of reforming convicts.

The suitability of the inmates is also very important. It is necessary to remove those who may be violent or dangerous. But according to Hirayama, it is precisely the violent inmates who need to be taught the value of life. They should therefore be given the opportunity to participate indirectly, as observers for instance, as a way of showing them the importance of respecting other living things.

Hirayama plans to continue to conduct studies at these facilities in the future, and analyze the affects that these programs have on inmates. Finally, she would like to submit her research findings to correctional institutions in Japan.