Unleashing abilities on both sides of the leash

The Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN)—a small but mighty nonprofit of just 11 full-time staff members founded in 2002—is an accredited service dog training and Indiana placement program providing safety, friendship, and independence for children and adults with disabilities. 

ICAN is one of less than 90 assistance dog training organizations accredited in North America and is the only accredited program in Indiana. 

ICAN participated in a leadership development program with Emerging World back in 2021. Since then the organization has been able to implement many of the recommendations from the  leaders participants worked with, yielding tremendous results for ICAN.

While ICAN relies heavily on volunteers to support its dogs’ training, the majority of its service dogs are trained by incarcerated individuals at three Indiana prisons: Pendleton Correctional Facility, a level three maximum-security adultmale facility; Correctional Industrial Facility, a medium-security adult male facility; and the Indiana Women’s Prison, a maximum-security adult female facility.  ICAN prides itself on being as much of a rehabilitation program for incarcerated individuals as it does an organization assisting adults and children with disabilities.  

Their proven prison program helps inmate handlers move beyond their mistakes, find purpose, gain hope, and learn the skills they need to successfully return to the community—all by training service dogs that help someone else. “Although we must hold offenders responsible for their behavior, we must provide them opportunities to learn skills to help them become productive and responsible citizens,” says Jillian Ashton, ICAN President and CEO. “One day, these people will be our neighbors, our coworkers. There’s no reason not to want to make them the best possible version of themselves.”

Currently, ICAN has 50 incarcerated individuals in apprenticeship training roles with their organization. These men and women train service dogs to support clients with mobility assistance needs, to act as diabetic alert dogs, to provide psychiatric support for veterans, and to become facility service dogs. The offenders learn to train the dogs by working alongside ICAN’s programming team. These full-time trainers go inside the facilities and lead weekly in-person classes with the inmate handlers. 

ICAN puppies enter the prison system at 16 weeks old and remain on and off with their inmate handlers until they reach approximately two years of age. During that time, the young dogs rotate between prison and society, including six-week increments with their inmate handlers at a correctional facility and three-week increments outside with ICAN volunteers.  

Current offenders have called their participation in the ICAN program “life-changing,” and many say “they would be lost without it.”

And while the success of this program can be measured simply by the handlers’ testimonials, these statistics speak for themselves:

ICAN handlers have a recidivism rate of 14.5% compared to the state’s 33.82% rate. Since 2010, 48 former ICAN handlers have been released. With incarceration costs averaging $19,000 per year per inmate, ICAN saves the Department of Corrections an estimated $246,329.38 on reduced incarceration time alone.

ICAN handlers are also more likely to secure employment after they are released because of the education and experience they obtain as ICAN trainers. Since 2015, 24 released handlers have been employed in animal-related industries such as training, grooming, boarding services, or shelter/rescue work. 

ICAN successfully prepares offenders to reintegrate with their families. That’s because its training model for service dogs is based on positive reinforcement—the same method used for teaching effective parenting and interpersonal skills.

This year, ICAN anticipates adding ten more incarcerated trainers to support their nearly 60 active service dogs in training.
 Its goal is to help unleash as many abilities–on both sides of the leash–as they can.  

To learn more about ICAN, visit icandog.org.

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