- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - The Hutchinson Correctional Facility’s decision to end a program that lets inmates train service dogs will likely mean an even longer wait for people who need such dogs, according to the director of a dog-training organization.

Staffing shortages prompted The Hutchinson Correctional Facility to end its service-dog program as of Aug. 1, spokesman Dirk Moss said. The prison had one full-time officer overseeing the program and that person had to be moved back into a security job, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1TOSSoA ).

At full employment, the Hutchinson Correctional Facility has 365 uniformed security officers. About 40 of those positions were open in early August, Moss said.

“We had to make a choice,” Moss said. “We had to pull that position back into security.”

People who need service dogs already wait about 18 months, and the end of the Hutchinson program could stretch that to two years, said Sarah Holbert, executive director of the organization that oversees the dogs’ training. About 125 people are already on the program’s waiting list.



Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services sends dogs for basic training to prisons throughout the Midwest before bringing the dogs back to its Concordia headquarters for specialized training that fits the needs of the person who will get a dog.

Dogs that would have been sent to Hutchinson will now go to either Ellsworth Correctional Facility, the only Kansas prison still operating a CARES program, or an out-of-state prison.

Hutchinson began working with CARES in 2009 and trained 12 to 15 dogs at any one time, Holbert said. Newer programs train about half that number. Since the program began at Hutchinson, about 125 inmates have trained at least 245 dogs, Moss said.

“One of the things we found, we don’t have data, but we noticed that inmates participating in the program are considerably less troublesome than some of the other inmates,” Moss said. “For some of them, it’s the first time in their life that they have a positive bond with another living being.”

The El Dorado Correctional Facility ended its affiliation with the CARES program about three years ago. Holbert said that prison determined that most of its inmates did not have the personality needed to train dogs because they had committed violent crimes or had mental health issues.

Moss said it’s possible the program will someday return to the Hutchinson prison.

“That’d be one of the first things we’d look at if staffing numbers go back up,” he said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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