February 9, 2016
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Published: February 9, 2016
By: Leah Johnson
To view the article online, visit: http://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/20160208/convicts-and-canines-prison-program-rehabilitates-inmates-and-dogs-photos-video.
In partnership with the Alaqua Animal Refuge, a no-kill shelter in Freeport, inmates at the Walton Correctional Institute have the chance to rehabilitate and train abused or neglected dogs in a program they call REACH (re-entry efforts assisting canines with homes).
“I feel like I was dead most my life,” said Chris Justice, who is 33. “Being in this program has awakened emotions in me.”
He said he got involved in the program a year ago because it was not only a chance to rehabilitate the dogs, but to rehabilitate himself.
Rhonda Pabst, a correctional officer sergeant, said that inmates have to meet certain criteria to be involved. The program does not allow for inmates with violent charges and inmates have to keep a clean disciplinary record for at least six months.
“It’s fabulous to watch them change,” she said. “A lot of them have never had to take care of something they love. It changes their heart.”
She said after the inmates get out, these are tools they can apply in life.
Since Justice started the program, he has become a team leader and trained four dogs, one of which will serve as a service dog for a paraplegic boy
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 24,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 140,000 offenders in the community.