This is another report about domestic animals being introduced into UK prisons to benefit the welfare of the inmates (click this for another report). The policy is based upon the known fact that interacting with animals helps to calm people and it also helps people to learn respect for others. It must also be useful in terms of learning how to be gentle with animals and they may well learn something about animal husbandry as well. At an emotional level the interactions allow inmates to temporarily escape their predicament.
In this instance HMP Hindley, a prison in Greater Manchester has introduced a petting zoo. Inmates can book a visit in order to spend time with the animals which are thought to be guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, mice, rabbits and rats.
A report by Charlie Taylor, the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons regards the initiative as imaginative and has praised the jail. Research indicates that playing with animals increases the production in the human of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and reduces the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. I hope it also improves the lives of the animals. Let’s not be too human-centric.
HMP Hindley has a bad record with a recent report finding that a huge 59% of prisoners were found to have drugs in their systems. Apparently other prisons have rates of between five and 20%.
The prison is a category C prison for 400 men near Wigan.
Comment: as a former lawyer I visited prisons. They are populated with a lot of people who really shouldn’t be there because they are drug addicts and highly vulnerable people who should be treated and cared for rather than punished. They find themselves in an environment which makes them worse and where they are abused. That’s a personal viewpoint but it is based on first-hand experiences and I believe in punishment. It is just that for some pepole they are clearly the wrong place.
I don’t see cats being mentioned in the report. Domestic cats are great stress-reducers. This is also a known fact. A cat’s purr alone can calm one’s nerves. Cat slow you down particularly when they sit on your lap. Perhaps they decided against cats because they felt they could not be entirely predictable and might scratch or bite a prisoner which may provoke a retaliatory attack by the prisoner, which in turn would destroy the programme. What about dogs though?
I had believed that the prison officers implicitly allowed drugs into their establishment in order to keep the inmates placid. These drugs tend to put them to sleep or chill them out which is why they are accepted by prison staff. I may be too cynical in that assessment but I should imagine that other people have the same viewpoint.