Prison Paws Bill moves forward
April 6, 2023
HELENA -- The House State Administration Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill Thursday designed to address mental health in Montana’s prisons by expanding a program that teaches inmates to train dogs.
Rep. Gregory Frazer, R-Deer Lodge, is the sponsor of House Bill 941.
“I think that’s a great program. Especially due the fact that there is a lot of therapeutic value in having the inmates work with animals. Teaches them compassion, patience, a little bit of respect. Those are all positive benefits that these individuals can apply to their lives, not only while they are incarcerated, but once they discharge. Hopefully it’ll make them be a better father, brother, husband, coworker, employee, whatever, et cetera,” Frazer said.
The bill would expand a smaller program at the womens’ prison in Billings called Prison Paws. Inmates teach dogs everything they need to know -- to sit, stay, walk on a leash, meet other dogs and more. HB 941 would expand that program to the state prison in Deer Lodge. There, the prison would partner with local animal shelters to get rowdy or nervous dogs ready for adoption and give inmates some time to relax and work with the animals.
There are small requirements for both the inmates and the dogs enrolled to make sure the program runs smoothly. The dogs have to be vaccinated and can’t be a danger to anyone and inmates can’t have a history of animal cruelty and have to follow the program’s rules. The program would help train shelter dogs, but members of the public who need help training their dog would also be able to enroll their pet in the program.
There were three proponents of the bill during its hearing Thursday. Dr. Marie Suthers is a veterinarian and the chair of the anthropology department at Carroll College.
“Dogs benefit because they escape their own death row and find their forever homes. Prisons benefit because the close interaction between prisoners and dogs leads to a reduction in the number of infractions and amount of violence. Members of the community benefit by receiving a dog that can become a service dog or a treasured family member and society benefits from reduction in the recidivism rate of participating inmates. That is a win times five,” Suthers said.
There were no opponents at the hearing Thursday. The bill will now move on for a full vote on the House Floor.
Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.