Not enough of a good thing

Published 4:13 am Monday, January 22, 2007

By Staff
A dog-training program that pairs criminals with animal-shelter dogs should be implemented in every way possible in our neck of the woods. Doing so would yield long-term benefits not only for the dogs and convicts, but for residents who will never see the inside of a jail or prison.
Craven Correctional Institution in New Bern has a New Leash on Life program that inmate Grady Meredith says made him “a better man.”
The program matches state prisons with local animal shelters to train shelter dogs in preparation for adoption. Dogs are placed with inmate trainers inside the prisons for eight weeks and are taught basic obedience, house manners and socialization. Dogs sleep in a kennel at the prison, but are allowed into the inmates’ cells to learn how to bond with people.
Such a program would be ideal for Hyde Correctional Institution, the medium-security prison in Fairfield. The New Leash on Life program could run as-is in that facility. It would no doubt be beneficial to the 548 inmates the prison can house.
But we’d like to see the program modified as well, to benefit less-hardened criminals. Some convicts don’t get as far as a medium- or maximum-security prison, but they spend plenty of time in and out of county jails. Or they do get sent to prison, eventually, after several run-ins with the law.
If a program similar to New Leash on Life were available locally in a forum outside prison, it might be just the sort of intervention a convict needs — before he or she serves long, hard time. It would be particularly appropriate for first-time or juvenile offenders.
Giving the offenders something to care for, and care about, that could also return their affection, could make a big difference down the road.
Such a program could make the difference between a person being a one-time offender or a repeat offender. It could be a deciding factor in whether a person has a record of misdemeanors that are caught in time or a felony record.
Remember how we said some people end up in prison eventually? Well, a program that teaches responsibility and caring may sound elementary, but it may be just the roadblock that some people need on a path that would otherwise lead to Eventually.
Meredith, the Craven County inmate, says he “grew up” in prison. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1992 and is serving a life sentence.
“There were things I had to change about myself,” he said. The training program helped him figure out some of the things that needed changing. It taught him structure, he said.
It taught Meredith better behavior. “You don’t have to be mean or a bully. Dogs will follow if you will lead,” he said. “You start to see the bigger picture.”
That’s a valuable lesson and one he’s glad he learned. But it’s a lesson that came much later than he might have wanted.
Rep. Alice Graham Underhill, D-Craven, attended last week’s dog graduation ceremony. She said of the program, “I hope it spreads like wildfire through our state.”
So do we. If a local, modified version of the program kept even one would-be Grady Meredith from seeing the inside of a prison, it would be worth it.