Inmates at the Newton Correction Facility enrolled in the Iowa Prison Industries program are building an office and a classroom. More importantly, they will eventually build homes that can be moved to rural communities.

In Mount Pleasant, a program at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility is giving inmates and troubled dogs a second chance.

Inmates taking part in the Mount Pleasant program are paired with dogs from the PAW Animal Shelter in Fort Madison through the Fully Rescue Educational Development Program.

The dogs stay with their handlers for about eight weeks, though that period sometimes varies based on the dogs’ progress. Their handlers work with them extensively throughout their stay to correct problem behaviors and make them more suitable for adoption.

Inmates must show positive behavior for four months as well as receive good reviews from staff to be eligible to become handlers. Since the program was launched at the Mount Pleasant facility, 87 dogs, not including five that were recently brought to the facility, and 94 inmates have been part of the FRED program, which employs training techniques similar to those used by animal behaviorist Cesar Millan. All but 10 of those dogs have been adopted.

Paw Director Sandy Brown told The Burlington Hawkeye that the shelter has about 200 animals at any given time, and with just six employees, not all the animals can get the one-on-one time they need.

The dogs share a room with their handlers and are under their care around the clock. There are about 20 secondary handlers who also can work with the dogs. After secondary handlers show they can take on the responsibility of caring for and training the dogs, they can become primary handlers. Handlers earn $100 per month to work with the dogs.

The program has proven as beneficial to the handlers as it has to the problem dogs they work with.

“You see the awesome side of the dog, but you don’t realize how important it is to some of the handlers,” said Andrea Wright, executive officer at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility.

“I’ve been down for 15 years, and I’ve got a year and a half to go, and Hooch is my saving grace,” a prisoner said, explaining the dog helps him to keep busy and out of trouble. “Hooch has been my emotional support dog.”

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At the Newton facility, inmates who participate in the prison industries program can earn apprenticeships in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and general labor.

The Iowa Prison Industries program is expected to build four homes in its first year for Marshalltown, which was hit by a tornado last summer. For 2020, the program is planning to build 18 homes, with 36 the following year.

Homes built through the program cost about $125,000, and are limited to purchase by families who earn less than $73.100 annually. The homes are 1,200-square-feet, three-bedroom, two-bathroom, energy efficient with an open floor plan.

Though it’s a small step, the program will help address the rural housing crisis. Nearly 150 Iowa towns have seen no new houses built since at least 2010, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. Some counties in southeast Iowa haven’t seen new homes built since 1940, Mike Norris, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, told The Des Moines Register.

“It’s just a win-win for Iowa to build really good, quality homes for citizens and communities that need them, and at the same time give our guys skills to make them successful when they get out,” said Jeremy Larson, acting warden at the Newton facility.

While the skills and benefits are obviously different, much the same can be said of the Mount Pleasant program. We see both of the programs as a win for the prisoners involved and a win for the residents of Iowa.

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