Nature Behind Bars: Animal Class Helps Prisoners Find Compassion

Professor Marc Bekoff teaches a popular animal behavior course at the Boulder County Jail, which has helped some inmates bond with the natural world—and ultimately reconnect to society.

How do you think the class affects them?

They get excited over the animal videos, and love talking about pets and wild animals—it softens them. It gives them the chance to discuss the importance of social relationships and compassion and empathy.

They find common ground. And it connects them to the outside world and to nature. I’ve had the most violent guys say what a positive effect the class had on him. One said talking about dog behavior helped him realize he needs to extend more compassion to humans. Researchers refer to animals as “social catalysts” when they help people connect and reconnect in this way.