Five incarcerated Brooklyn youth are learning how to care for and train service dogs while locked up at a juvenile detention center in Crown Heights.
“A lot of the kids come into the program, and they’re very emotionally closed. It’s hard for them to open up,” said Jeannie Ashford, a rep with the program. “The dogs help the kids to think about their emotions. They’ve shut down their emotions, but when they start training these dogs, it helps them reconnect with their emotions — and with other people.”
The program — run by the nonprofit Rising Ground — offers incarcerated kids an opportunity to serve their sentence in a secure, retrofitted Crown Heights home as an alternative to the traditional prison system.
The facility is currently occupied by five teenagers, who work together to teach new tricks to two pups — a Yorkie named Simon, and a Pitbull mix named Jay Mo.
“The dogs are very therapeutic for the kids,” said Ashford. “They love it.”
The alt-prison facility and its four-legged staff helps the incarcerated kids build social and life skills while serving their time, improving their chances of staying out of trouble once they’re free to leave, said Ashford.
“On the first day that the kids come into the program, we start planning about what they’re going to do when they get out,” she said. “You can’t just take teens and put them in adult penitentiaries upstate, where they are not going to go to school and they’re not going to have a chance to re-enter their communities.”