Prisoners are to train puppies in a programme the Government says will reduce reoffending and increase the number of mobility dogs for the disabled.
The Puppies in Prison programme has just been launched at Spring Hill Corrections Facility in Waikato.
A number of low-security prisoners will provide full-time training for the puppies which will go on as mobility dogs to assist people with disabilities.
The programme, undertaken in partnership with the Mobility Assistance Dogs Trust, is the
first of its kind in a male prison in New Zealand, and follows the success of a similar programme at Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility, in place since 2009.
Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says prisoners involved in the programme have developed important skills such as empathy, trust, and a sense of responsibility "and we have seen a real improvement in behaviour and attitude".
Research into similar programmes overseas shows that this kind of rehabilitation ultimately leads to reductions in reoffending and fewer victims of crime, Tolley said.
"We expect to see the same results at Spring Hill."
The dogs require full-time care and will be trained to respond to around 50 commands, like opening and closing doors, passing objects and even sorting the washing, Tolley said.
"These dogs make a huge difference to the lives of disabled people and there is currently a huge waiting list for mobility dogs. We have found that the puppies trained at Auckland Women's compare really well with those trained out in the community," Tolley said.
"The programme will also allow these prisoners to repay their debt to society and make a real difference to the lives of New Zealanders."
The Trust places the puppies in the prison and will provide continued oversight of the training.