The DuBocage Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association recently met at the Pine Bluff Country Club.

The DuBocage Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association recently met at the Pine Bluff Country Club.

The guest speaker was Shea Wilson and the topic was the Arkansas Department of Correction Paws in Prison program. Wilson joined the Arkansas Department of Correction in February 2011 as the public information officer. She also serves as the agency’s legislative liaison. She was part of the group that started Arkansas Paws in Prison and remains active in the program.

She is a member of the Association of Women Executives in Corrections and the Southern States Correctional Association. She is committee chair of the SSCA’s quarterly publication, The Southern Concourse. Prior to joining ADC, she spent 20 years in the newspaper business, the last 13 of which were as managing editor of the EL Dorado News Times. A lifelong resident of Arkansas, she has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/journalism and a minor in broadcast from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

The program is a partnership with animal shelters and advocate groups in the state. Selected offenders, under the guidance of professional dog trainers, work with rescue dogs, teaching them the basic obedience skills and properly socializing the animals. Each year in Arkansas, hundreds of homeless dogs are euthanized. Paws in Prison reduces the number by providing loving, obedient, adoptable pets. Paws in Prison gives inmates the skills necessary to support successful rehabilitation and reentry and ultimately improves public safety. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the inmates to repay Arkansas communities and repair some of the debts caused by their crime. Since the program began December 8, 2011, ADC has seen a positive impact on relations between inmates and staff, which ultimately improves security.

There are currently four outside professional dog trainers who come in twice a week to train the inmates. There is a graduation ceremony when the "Vet Tech" completes training. The dogs have to go through an assessment before they can determine if they can be a part of the Paws in Prison program. The dogs have to be soft type dogs without being aggressive. They want dogs that are easy to learn and engage well with people.

The benefit of the program is to give the inmates something positive to do. Some inmates have gone into dog grooming and they acquire skills they can use on the outside after being released from prison. At this time Paws in Prison is operating in six prisons and the program is going well. The warden chooses the inmates and they cannot have abused any animal at any time.

The chapter discussed the spring enrollment, ways and means, and scholarships requirements. The chapter held an installation ceremony of new member, Karen Cash, who was sponsored by chapter president, Joyce Anne Green. Cash is a vice president and trust officer in the Simmons First Trust Company. She is a past president of Kiwanis, and currently serves as treasurer for Voices for Children and is a board member as well.