When Dogs Make the Difference: Jail-Based Parenting With and Without Animal-Assisted Therapy

AuthorGeorge J. Day,Kimberly Collica-Cox
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(6) 608 –638
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034211063455
When Dogs Make the
Difference: Jail-Based
Parenting With and Without
Animal-Assisted Therapy
Kimberly Collica-Cox1 and George J. Day2
With 1.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent, the need
to provide evidence-based programming, which helps incarcerated mothers re-
establish healthy relationships with their children, is essential. This study examines
Parenting, Prison, and Pups, a jail-based parenting course for incarcerated women,
integrated with the use of animal-assisted therapy (AAT). Utilizing a mixed-method
quasi-experimental design, the authors examined differences between mothers who
completed a parenting course with AAT, compared with those who completed the
same course without AAT; statistically significant lower rates of parental stress and
higher rates of self-esteem and parental knowledge among the AAT group were
found. Based on qualitative data, the presence of therapy dogs appeared to encourage
communication, trust, and connectedness between group members. These results
indicate the importance of using innovative tools to help incarcerated women, who
often have long histories of trauma and abuse, to develop healthy bonds with their
animal-assisted therapy, incarcerated mothers, rehabilitation, parenting, jails
I was having such anxiety; couldn’t sleep. I’m not saying I was going to hurt myself but
when those pups came in. . .I’m just saying—it saved me” (MCC).
1Pace University, New York City, USA
2Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kimberly Collica-Cox, Criminal Justice & Security Department, Pace University, 41 Park Row, Room
1126, New York, NY 10038, USA.
Email: kcollicacox@pace.edu
1063455CJPXXX10.1177/08874034211063455Criminal Justice Policy ReviewCollica-Cox and Day
Collica-Cox and Day 609
It is often difficult for mothers to maintain contact with their children while incarcer-
ated (Greene, 2013). The separation between a mother and her child can contribute to
her depression, self-harming behavior, and an array of mental health issues (Jasperson,
2010; Keaveny & Zauszniewski, 1999). Correspondingly, children may experience
mental health problems, family instability, health issues, school failure, and increased
involvement in the criminal justice system (Aaron & Dallaire, 2010; Christian, 2009;
Mears & Siennick, 2016; Miller & Barnes, 2015; Purvis, 2013; Will et al., 2014).
Maintaining healthy bonds between mothers and children, however, can mitigate these
consequences (Purvis, 2013; Synder, 2009). With 1.7 million U.S. children having an
incarcerated parent (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008; Maruschak et al., 2010), it is impera-
tive that correctional facilities provide parenting programs, especially for mothers,
whose absence often has a devastating effect on the lives of her children (e.g., children
are relocated, there is increased child protective services involvement, and siblings are
often separated) (Gifford et al., 2020; Harm & Phillips, 2001). Since jailed women
receive fewer programs than jailed men, jails have an obligation to increase their gen-
der-specific services as the proportion of women with criminal justice involvement
continues to grow (Carson, 2020), especially when women tend to suffer from higher
rates of substance use, mental illness, physical ailments, and trauma-based pasts, in
comparison to their male counterparts (Clark, 2009; Collica-Cox & Fagin, 2018;
Collica-Cox & Furst, 2019; Jasperson, 2010). Jails also have a unique opportunity;
while their population is relatively transient, and incarceration stays are much shorter
when compared with those serving time in prison (25 days compared with 2.6 years)
(Zeng, 2018), incarcerated persons can learn skills that will be put into practice within
a very short time (Collica-Cox & Furst, 2019). Since jails often struggle with difficulty
implementing programming (e.g., short stays, lack of funding, and limited space), it is
necessary to focus their limited resources on programs, which are effective and inno-
vative (Collica-Cox & Fagin, 2018).
Animals are one innovative tool that can be used to increase the effectiveness of
established correctional programming and animal programs are used in correctional
facilities with great success (Allison & Ramaswamy, 2016; Furst, 2006; Kunz-Lomelin
& Nordberg, 2020). Symbiotic relationships develop between humans and animals
that can improve relationships with other people by encouraging empathy and growth.
Engaging with animals can help in the healing process, especially for incarcerated
women who have long histories of abuse or experience difficulties trusting others
because of dysfunctional relationships in childhood (Collica-Cox & Fagin, 2018;
Thomas & Matusitz, 2016). Combining an evidence-based parenting class with ani-
mal-assisted therapy (AAT) may increase the benefits of such programming for women
and their children. Research on the effects of parenting classes for incarcerated per-
sons is limited (Armstrong et al., 2017; Eddy et al., 2013; Hoffmann et al., 2010); the
same holds true for studies that examine the effects of AAT with correctional popula-
tions (Mulcahy & McLaughlin, 2013). There are little to no studies that examine
whether the two combined can beget beneficial outcomes. This study seeks to address

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