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Five state prison systems in the United States permit the use of aggressive, unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners in efforts to remove them from their cells, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report.

The 20-page report, “Cruel and Degrading: The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons,” publicly reveals this practice for the first time. It also shows that the practice is not only cruel, but wholly unnecessary as there are safer, more humane alternatives that corrections officers can use – and most across the country do use – to remove prisoners from their cells.

In Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah, if a prisoner will not voluntarily leave his cell when ordered to do so, officers may bring a trained attack dog to the cell front to terrify the prisoner into compliance. If the prisoner still refuses, the dog is let into the cell to bite the prisoner. While the prisoner tries to fend off the dog, correctional officers place restraints on him and then remove him from the cell.

“The entire world has seen the photo of an Abu Ghraib detainee crouched in terror before a snarling dog, but the use of attack dogs against prisoners here in the U.S. has been a well-kept secret,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch. “Longtime corrections professionals were appalled when we told them that guards in some states use dogs on prisoners.”

The state prison systems in Connecticut and Iowa frequently use dogs for cell extractions. In Utah, they have been used extremely rarely. In Delaware and South Dakota, although state corrections policies permit the use of dogs for cell extractions, prison officials say they are not in fact used for this purpose.

Corrections officials in Connecticut and Iowa insist the use of attack dogs is justified because they deter prisoner misconduct and reduce staff injuries. But 45 other states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons reject their views.

The Arizona and Massachusetts prison systems formerly used dogs for cell extractions. In early 2006, both states ended the practice after a review of their use of force policies. The commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Kathleen Dennehy, said that there are other ways to get an inmate to follow orders “than sending in an animal to rip his flesh.”

Dogs are frequently used in the United States and elsewhere to patrol prison perimeters and to search for contraband.

“We know of no other country in the world where officers use attack dogs to remove prisoners from their cells,” said Fellner. “State prison officials in these five states should adopt the more humane methods that their colleagues across the country already use.”

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