I have to be honest. I’m in love with Dale, my 2-year-old cat. I adopted him just a couple of months after I was released from prison when he was just eight weeks old, and he is the first cat I have ever owned. My parents raised me to believe I was a dog person, but when I met Dale, I knew he had to be in my life.
I was in prison for four years, and during that time, the only interaction I had with pets was when one of my co-workers in canteen would bring in their dog from the C.H.A.M.P. program, which is an inmate dog-training program for service animals. Only the trainer was allowed to interact with the dog, so I could only look at their cute faces and smile.
Nearly 40 states have some kind of dog program in their prisons, but what about cats? Can you have a cat in prison?
In this blog post I will cover:
- The cat adoption program at Indiana State Prison
- Other prison cat programs
The cat adoption program at Indiana State Prison
Cat programs in prison are extremely rare. There are only a handful in the United States, with the most popular being the cat adoption program at Indiana State Prison. It was actually the cats that started this program over twenty years ago when they made their way onto prison grounds and started having kittens. Now, the adoption program is a partnership with a local animal shelter.
Indiana State Prison is a maximum-security facility that houses the state’s death row. Even though most of the inmates at this prison are violent offenders who are serving extremely long sentences, when it comes to their cats, they are incredibly protective and take excellent care of their fur babies. They even build their own cat furniture and make cat toys.
However, it’s really the cats that are improving the lives of the prisoners. Receiving unconditional love from a pet has helped some inmates live a more positive life, reduce their anger, and help with their self-control.
“I have a temper. One time some things happened and I was feeling pretty serious about doing something….But Raol put Jinxster in my arms, and I just held him until I didn’t need to do something anymore….During my first 15 years here, I was trouble….But Jinx changed all that. I’m a different person now,” says inmate James Stone.
Even the prison administration noticed a difference. One workerㅡwho has been in the Indiana State Prison for more than 25 yearsㅡsays that he sees a lot of inmates transformed by the animals, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
There are about 75 cats who live in the prison, and each one has its own ID badge just like the inmates. Every inmate who wants a cat must fill out an application and be approved. When the cat is adopted, they live with the inmate in their cell until they are released. Then, the cat goes home with the inmate.
This program is so popular, that there is a waiting list. There are strict requirements to get approved for a cat, and if you break the rules, the punishment is equally as strict. To get approval, an inmate must have a job and they must pay for the food and litter through their inmate trust account.
Inmates take their cats seriously at Indiana State Prison, and they don’t want to lose them. This leads to better behavior and less violence.
Because the program has been so successful, they created the FORWARD (Felines and Offenders Rehabilitation with Affection, Reformation, and Dedication) program at Pendleton Correctional Facility, another maximum-security prison in Indiana.
“There’s no more risk of the animals being hurt in prison than there is when we adopt to the normal public,” says Maleah Stringer, the executive director of the Animal Protection League in Anderson, Indiana. “The guys stay out of trouble because they know if they get in trouble, they’re going to lose the program. We’ve had more issues with mistreated animals coming back from adoptions than we ever do from the prison program.”
Other prison cat programs
At Pocahontas Correctional Unit in Chesterfield, Virginia, their Pen Pals program allows inmates to care for abandoned feral cats. The inmates help socialize the cats and prepare them for adoption into a forever home.
There is a similar program in two New Jersey prisons known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). This program has found that inmates who interact with cats show reduced recidivism rates, and the prison administration uses it as an incentive for good behavior.
According to the 2006 Prison-Based Animal Programs Survey (which was conducted in 159 prisons in 36 different states):
- 100 percent reported reduced inmate stress levels
- 97 percent reported increased inmate relationship/trust skills
- 93 percent reported increased inmate self-control
- 89 percent said the program humanizes/calms the facility
- 85 percent reported increased inmate work ethic
- 80 percent reported increased inmate sense of pride/accomplishment
Even though there aren’t many cat programs in US prisons, the evidence shows that they are incredibly successful. However, many people don’t believe that inmatesㅡespecially those on death rowㅡshould be allowed to adopt cats.
When Indiana State Prison was featured in the documentary Death Row 2018, some viewers took to Twitter to voice their outrage over death row inmates having cats. If only they knew how beneficial the program really was.
Do you think inmates of all custody levels should be allowed to have cats if they meet the criteria? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Death Row 2018 Viewers Shocked To See Cats In Inmates' Cells http://www.pretty52.com/news/tv-and-film-death-row-2018-viewers-shocked-to-see-cats-in-inmates-cells-20180203 Cats Find Homes in Prisons—and Reform Inmates http://mentalfloss.com/article/66916/cats-find-homes-prisons-and-reform-inmates Prison-Based Animal Programs: A National Survey https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=238027
I absolutely think inmates should be allowed to have cats if they meet the vetting process and as long as their behavior is monitored and has benefits for all involved.
There are philosophical differences about the “point” of prison. Is it to punish? To reform? I don’t really think it’s either of those. It’s to protect me from dangerous people. I don’t believe those people deserve expensive special treatment nor that they should experience endless daily suffering (even if they deserve it), but I do believe they can and should be allowed to do work that has value and fulfills a need.
If cats were are rare commodity, then no, these programs would not make sense. But there are far too many unaltered wild cats creating too many unwanted pets. There is a huge need for cat care beyond available resources. Shelters and willing foster families are overloaded with need.
There is research showing that offenders often come from unsupportive, non-loving homes and backgrounds. This does not excuse violent behavior, but explains why some have problems bonding with people that might be improved through interaction with an animal. In addition, the cats need homes and love, so this is a potential win-win solution.
Is there risk involved? Yes, of course. But it is true that the general public is also a risky population for cat adoptions and it’s not hard to make a case that a prisoner, who has few distractions and little in the way of daily entertainment, may be likely to be a far better cat foster parent than a busy person on the outside. I hope to see more of this going forward.
My son Military PTSD loves cats has one at home named Alli Boy, I would love to have his Cat in jail with him, his cat is the best support for him. We live Knoxville. Tn. I am sure if I mentioned it, I would be laughed at and told no.