Beyond the Bars holds its first graduation ceremony

a group of Beyond the Bars participants along with staff lined up for a group photoBeyond the Bars graduation -- L-R Sara Foltz, Kelvin, Quartez, Dominique, Raynell, Iman, Susan Jacobs-Meadow, (front) John, and Sanwan (photo courtesy of Canine Cellmates)

Beyond the Bars is a pre-trial diversion and sentencing alternative program. The program, run by Canine Cellmates in partnership with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, pairs participants with shelter dogs. The participants train the dogs in preparation for adoption, and at the same time go through a rigorous program of education in skills and habits needed to avoid future incarceration.

Trainer Raynell with Rio (photo courtesy of Canine Cellmates)

The facility for the program is located in Cobb County, on Atlanta Road near Smyrna.

The Courier profiled Beyond the Bars in an article published in November.

On December 17 the program graduated its first class, described in the press release reprinted below:

Atlanta, Dec. 17, 2021, ­- Canine CellMates, a nonprofit organization, had its first group of seven celebrate their accomplishments during graduation of Phase 1 of Beyond The Bars Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, at the new Canine CellMates facility.

This yearlong program, which launched in September of this year, is one of the first alternative disposition programs in the country using shelter dogs to break the cycle of incarceration.

“The program has been life-changing. It has taught me how to interact, to be disciplined, and to respect people by also respecting the animals,” said Iman, Beyond the Bars participant.

Canine CellMates works together with the district attorney’s office to select participants to participate in this unique program, which utilizes shelter dogs to change the break the cycle of incarceration in metro Atlanta. During Phase 1 of the program, selected participants report to the facility four days a week, and are assigned the responsibility of socializing and obedience training rescue dogs to prepare them for adoption. In addition, the participants are taught valuable workforce and social-emotional skills such as conflict resolution and emotional competence to help facilitate positive change, and break the cycle of incarceration.

Over four hundred men have completed the Canine CellMates program inside Fulton County Jail, and approximately 160 dogs have been adopted into forever homes.

Canine CellMates Executive Director Susan Jacobs-Meadow said at the graduation “We are glad to have reached this stage. The program is an opportunity to give the participants a second chance, and we pair dogs who are less likely to be adopted with men who would have been facing additional jail or prison time. Once the dogs are trained, the dogs are available to be adopted.”

Post-graduation of Phase 1, the participants will continue to participate in the program, working with rescue dogs and sitting in curriculum, gradually stepping down their participation over the subsequent nine months, and will complete the program after a year. When they complete the program, their charges will be dismissed.

Quartez and Susan Jacobs-Meadow, Canine CellMates Executive Director (photo courtesy of Canine Cellmates)