Paws for thought? Developing dog projects for older people in prison

Codd, Helen Louise orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4495-9347 (2023) Paws for thought? Developing dog projects for older people in prison. Quality in Ageing and Older Adults . ISSN 1471-7794

[thumbnail of AAM]
PDF (AAM) - Accepted Version

Official URL:


This study aims to assess the nature and scope of dog-based programmes in prisons, assessing critically the potential opportunities, benefits, challenges and risks of developing innovative dog-based programmes for older prisoners in England and Wales. This paper outlines the potential benefits and challenges of developing dog-based programmes for older prisoners and sets out next steps for future research and practice.

This study is based on a scoping review of published research literature on prison dog programmes (PDPs) in the USA, the UK and other countries, with particular reference to older people in prison, followed by semi-structured interviews with six members of an expert advisory group. The literature review and data from the qualitative interviews were analysed thematically.

There is a substantial body of published research literature which supports PDPs as having identifiable positive impacts for people and also dogs, and also published research which highlights the benefits to older people of dog ownership or participation in dog-based activities. However, much of this research is small-scale and qualitative, and it has been argued that there is a lack of a quantitative evidence base. This research concludes that findings from the literature review and the semi-structured interviews support further research and the creation of pilot projects to develop dog-based projects for older people in prison.

Research limitations/implications
This study was small-scale, and the findings need to be approached with caution. The literature review searched a small number of databases and filtered out articles published in languages other than English, and the review of the grey literature focused on reports from the UK. The number of experts interviewed was small and there was no direct consultation with older people in prison nor with older people with recent personal lived experience of imprisonment and community resettlement. A more extensive future study would benefit from a more extensive literature review, a larger group of participants and the inclusion of service users, prison managers and government policymakers, subject to the appropriate ethical and security approvals. At the time the research took place, ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on prison research meant that research with current prisoners and prison managers would not have been approved by the HMPPS NRC.

Practical implications
This research provides a research-based justification for future dog projects for older prisoners, leading potentially to improved well-being for older people in prison.

This study brings together the published research literature on PDPs with the research literature on the needs and experiences of older people in prison for the first time, and identifies potential directions for future research.

Repository Staff Only: item control page