“The thing about animals is they are not judgemental”: Stories and images from formerly incarcerated women about their relationships with companion animals


  • Michele Jarldorn University of South Australia




Photovoice, companion animals, formerly incarcerated women


INTRODUCTION: The data presented in this research brief are drawn from a project which asked 12 former prisoners what they thought outsiders should know about imprisonment and release. One of the themes arising from the data suggested that, rather than participating in a mandated programme or professionally delivered intervention, the reasons for successfully staying out of prison were based on relationships and connections. Sometimes these relationships were with family, community, a specific worker or group and, for six of the women, with companion animals. It was a combination of these relationships which helped the participants find their own pathways to staying in the community and, eventually, out of the criminal justice system.

APPROACH: Data were created using Photovoice, an arts-based, qualitative, participatory action research method where participants take photographs and then use those images to help tell their story. Participants were invited to talk about anything they saw as important for outsiders to know about their experiences of imprisonment and release. Unexpectedly, six of the women chose to speak about the importance of their relationship with companion animals.

FINDINGS: The data presented here show the value that women in this project placed on their relationships with companion animals. More broadly, their data point to the importance of having non-judgemental relationships and the benefits of being able to ‘give back’.

CONCLUSION: The unexpected findings presented in this research brief suggest that social workers must take into consideration all relationships criminalised women have, not just those with other humans.


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How to Cite

Jarldorn, M. (2020). “The thing about animals is they are not judgemental”: Stories and images from formerly incarcerated women about their relationships with companion animals. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 32(4), 69–76. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol32iss4id794



Research Briefs