Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Forensic Forum - Paper Session.

“Horticulture and pet care in a medium secure unit: a growing success.” 
Bowen C, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.

This paper described a gardening and pet care programme which has been developed and implemented within a Medium Secure Unit. Service users at the unit are given the opportunity to engage in horticulture activities and in the active care of animals such as rabbits, chickens and goats.

The OT described that the development of skills which these programmes enable provides a sense of wellbeing for service users. Boosts confidence, social interaction and engagement. As well as decreasing depression and anxiety – providing an outlet for frustration and tension and also building on a sense of relaxation.
Further benefits of the programmes which have been recognised include:
  • Sense of achievement.
  • Service users become better at planning and sequencing.
  • Helps relieve boredom.
  • Service users can work at their own place - idea for grading and adapting.
  • Service users are able to get off the ward and get some fresh air.
  • Increasing routines, structure and responsibility.
  • Problem solving skills increased.
  • Increased feelings of empathy.
There are also many ways in which these programmes can be developed in the future:
  • Ward based groups and individual horticulture activities.
  • Pet residents on the ward.
  • Photography opportunities.
  • Wildlife and conservation.
  • Art groups.
  • Picnics.
  • Weather station - meteorology. 
  • Involvement of more service users and also families, partners, friends etc.
This paper session got me thinking as to the benefits of Pets in forensic settings. My final university placement was a role emerging placement in a male foreign nationals Prison. I had thought about the introduction of pets - in particular fish, after reading an interesting article on the benefits of introducing fish onto the wings. Unfortunately I cant not find the article! Will keep looking. However after doing a quick "google" search on pets in Prison I found a couple of interesting articles.
  1.  "Washington State Correctional Center For Women -Prison Pet Partnership Program" ( Women in this American Prison have the opportunity to care for and train dogs that will assist disabled people. The women learn how to train, groom and board dogs within the prison walls. One really interesting paragraph from the link given is this:
"The Prison Pet Partnership Program gives inmate trainers the opportunity to learn valuable pet industry-related vocational skills to use in finding employment when they resume their lives outside of prison. They are able to work toward Pet Care Technician certification, levels one and two, through the American Boarding Kennels Association. They are also able to obtain Companion Animal Hygienist certification under the auspices of the World Wide Pet Supply Association. At this time, 100 percent of the inmates who have been released have found employment. Additionally, over the past three years the recidivism rate has been zero."
2.  "Jail house flock- Allowing inmates to keep pets in prison is more than just a reward for good behaviour - it can also teach old dogs new tricks." (
 I would definitely recommend reading the above article is you have a few minutes. Observations made from allowing service users to care for pets, in this case birds, include a reduction in violence and service users being on "report", an increased engagement and willingness to learn skills such as reading in order to learn how to care your their pets more effectively and also increasing social skills and co-operation. Further more the article states that in an American study, service users who had opportunities to care for pets:
"...needed only half the medication of their petless peers, and there were no suicide attempts, compared with eight on the other ward (without pets)."

I find it really interesting and encouraging that programmes such as these can have such a beneficial effect on the rehabilitation of forensic service users. This is definitely an area which I feel OTs can get involved with and develop!!

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