Adjournment Matters No 1019
59 Parliament First Session
Asked: 25 November 2020


MR GRIMLEY — To ask the Minister for Training and Skills (for the Minister for Corrections): 

I rise to give my adjournment debate, which is for the attention of the minister representing the Minister for Corrections, regarding the defence dogs program in Victorian prisons. I have met on many occasions with stakeholders on the proposal of having dogs in prisons, such as the Defence Bank Foundation. Their program involves the rescue of dogs that are then trained by selected prisoners to specifically assist veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress injury. Results from the Bathurst trial indicated zero per cent recidivism rates of prisoners involved in the program, and PTSI sufferers reported a huge reduction in medical treatment sought and a vast improvement in their ability to function effectively within the community.

A group of female inmates at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre have been given the opportunity to work and live with puppies, which has given some much-needed happiness and rehabilitation and future job potential as they serve their sentences. These inmates are undertaking the only certificate III in companion animal services in an Australian prison as part of the Pups in Prison program, run by Assistance Dogs Australia, or ADA. The demand for assistance dogs is very high. These pups range in age from 14 weeks to 15 months and live and work with the inmates 24/7. One prisoner in an ABC News article published this month, Rhiannon, stated:

It’s helped me a lot. I’ve reduced my medications and I’m a lot more happy.

The Pups in Prison program has also trained Australia’s only two fully accredited court facility dogs to provide support for witnesses giving evidence, many of whom are children or victims of sexual assault. ADA hopes to expand the Pups in Prison program so it can open its recipient list again. I have been advocating for this program in Victoria for a long time, since I first began here. Being an ex-police officer, I have spoken to other police members who also have assistance dogs, and they have changed their lives for the better. As I have said in this place, specifically in a previous members statement, police officers are regularly exposed to traumatic events and experiences. It is estimated that around 1 per cent of the general population will experience PTSI, whereas 10 per cent of all emergency services workers and up to 20 per cent of police officers will experience PTSI during their careers. This program’s benefits are threefold: rescue a dog, rehabilitate a prisoner, and change the life of a PTSI sufferer. Therefore the action that I seek is for the Minister for Corrections to implement this extremely important program into an appropriate Victorian prison for the purpose of supporting retired frontline personnel who have PTSI as a result of their service.

Answered: 18 February 2021

Ms HUTCHINS (Sydenham—Minister for Crime Prevention, Minister for Corrections, Minister for Youth Justice, Minister for Victim Support):

The Victorian Government agrees that prisoner engagement in caring for and training dogs can have a rehabilitative effect.

As outlined in response to your Constituency Question of 4 August 2020, the Victorian Government is currently considering further opportunities to enhance programs focused on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism through the use of canines. Corrections Victoria has met with the Defence Community Dogs organisation and identified a preferred program site. However, the restrictions related to the COVID-19 emergency have impacted the ability to progress site visits. Both parties have agreed that this work will continue when it is safe to do so, with visits in prisons recommencing soon.

Corrections Victoria also continues to partner with Greyhound Racing Victoria through the Prison Pet Partnership, which involves ex-racing dogs being trained by selected prisoners so that they are suitable for adopt ion. The program currently operates at Dhurringile and Tarrengower prisons. The prisoners participating in this program are learning valuable skills, which helps in their rehabilitation and reduces the risk of reoffending after they complete their sentence. The program not only supports prisoners but also helps give back to the local community.

Beechworth Correctional Centre also partners with a local animal rescue program which helps rehabilitate prisoners while re-homing abandoned dogs.

I thank the member for his advocacy on programs to improve rehabilitation both through the use of canines and more broadly.