Canines (and Cats!) in Correctional Institutions: Legal and Ethical Issues Relating to Companion Animal Programs

Approximately one in 107 adults in the United States is incarcerated in some type of correctional institution. Many correctional institutions have adopted a philosophy of “restorative justice” to not only manage inmates while incarcerated, but also provide them with the opportunity to develop skills needed to succeed once they are released. The recent trend of establishing companion animal programs is consistent with this philosophy. This Article focuses on the legal and ethical issues involved with keeping companion animals in this very specific institutional environment. First, the Article analyzes various types of programs that correctional institutions have established and assesses common benefits of and challenges for the programs. Second, it considers programs that may allow for inmates to have their “own” animals in a facility, including the question of whether service or assistance animals must be accommodated. Third, the Article evaluates the risks to humans involved with these programs and makes recommendations to ensure the safety of the participants to reduce the liability to the institutions and organizations involved. Fourth, it considers the ethical implications of having companion animals in these environments – focusing on whether it is an appropriate placement for companion animals and providing guidance for those who wish to consider implementing or supporting such programs.