NKSP Level III inmates learn dog-training skills through Pawsitive Change.

By Lt. Jose Martinez, AA/PIO
North Kern State Prison

Changes are happening at North Kern State Prison (NKSP) thanks to Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue and their Pawsitive Change program.

NKSP Warden Kelly Santoro tries her hand at handling one of the rescue dogs.

Pawsitive Change was implemented in August as part of CDCR’s innovative grant program. This progressive and intensive rehabilitation program matches “death row” dogs with NKSP’s Level III inmates.

The program’s goal is to reduce inmate recidivism by providing them a viable skill, while at the same time saving dogs’ lives.The program is guided by four experienced trainers over the course of 14 weeks. The first six weeks are focused on dog psychology and rehabilitation, while the last seven weeks are centered on completion of the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen test, which is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior, according to the Marley’s Mutts website.

Warden Kelly Santoro has been very optimistic on how Pawsitive Change will impact the level III population. She said she has seen a change in the inmate population especially when the inmate handlers are working the dogs during yard.

Everyone involved understands the program is providing a safe emotional space and respectful environment which allows all to build a relationship and effectively communicate with other inmates including staff. Inmates participating focus on respect and emotional honesty which is nurtured between inmate, dog and staff, thus laying the groundwork for Pawsitive Change in all involved, the website states.

“We are their rescuers, their voice and their future,” Warden Santoro said.

Since the start of the program, seven dogs have been adopted and now have a forever home.

(Editor’s note: Some websites may not be available from a CDCR computer.)

Learn more about the program at https://www.marleysmutts.org/pawsitive-change-prison-program/

Level III inmates learn how to train rescue dogs.