Calls for dogs to be let loose in prisons as they ‘calm’ lags

Prison bosses are using dogs to "calm" inmates down after a study found they reduced violence and the risk of reoffending.

Lags in three jails in the North East said the therapy pooches were "non-judgmental" and boosted their confidence.

More prisons are now lined up to join the programme after Australian researchers found they improve convicts' mental health.

Nick Rowe, director of a prison in Gatton, Queensland, said having eight dogs onsite led to a "real reduction" in violence.

He said: "We've seen a real reduction in incidents with prisoners while they've been near and working with the dogs.

"Dogs calm these people down."

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The study found inmates became better at recognising humans emotions after spending time with dogs.

Researchers at the University of Southern Queensland showed prisoners at three jails images of dogs exhibiting different behaviours.

They were then asked to describe the animal's emotion as either happy, sad, scared or angry.

Study leader Lauren Humby, a lecturer in criminology,said the results showed that people processed dog and human facial cues in similar ways.

Dr Humby said: "Learning to read the behavioural cues of dogs could help inmates better recognise and process emotions in people, and ultimately reduce their risk of offending in the future.

"Many of the inmates likened the behaviour to their own children. One man told me he has now become a better parent because he understands his child's needs more.

"Research has shown offenders often have lower emotional intelligence than the general population. Prisoners often lack awareness of themselves and others and can struggle to appropriately identify and respond to their own and others' emotions."

Meanwhile, therapy dogs introduced in English prisons were said to have a calming influence on lags who welcomed them as "non-judgmental"

US jails have been pairing inmates with animals in need since 1981.

Washington State Corrections Centre for Women says getting inmates to raise rescue pups has slashed reoffending rates by two thirds.

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