Service Dogs Graduate Prison Program

Monday, June 26, 2023 | 08:27am
Photo of dog with handler

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Seven service dogs trained by offenders in Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) custody graduated from the Retrieving Independence (RI) program last week.  Having spent the last 18-24 months living inside TDOC facilities to receive their training, the dogs will now leave prison and go to their forever homes in the community with their new owners.

For 11 years, TDOC has partnered with RI to offer the program inside the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX) and the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center (DJRC).  To date, roughly 100 service dogs have graduated from the program and been placed with individuals living with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities, or at facilities within the community.  The dogs, who come to the facility at 16 weeks, receive specific training to meet the needs of the recipient they’ve been matched with.  Inmates train the dogs for mobility assistance, diabetic alert, seizure alert, and mental/emotional needs such as PTSD and anxiety.

“The training you provided is going to affect not only the person they’re with, but also the family, friends, and the people they encounter,” RI CEO Lauren Dougall told offenders at TCIX during their graduation ceremony on Wednesday.

For offenders, the program teaches teamwork, responsibility, unconditional love, and is a way for them to give back to society.

“It gives me a sense of responsibility and a sense of purpose.  Also, it helps to restore dignity – being able to make a contribution to somebody in need and do something important,” said Tyler, an inmate trainer at TCIX.

Currently, there are 28 service dogs being trained by offenders within TDOC.

RI relies heavily on the help of volunteers to keep puppies until they are old enough to start their training, and for weekend furloughs where dogs leave the prison to have socialization with the public.  To apply for a service dog or to become a volunteer, please visit

Photo of a dog
Photo of a dog