“Obviously a dog is more of a deterrent [than a Taser gun].  You get more damage from a dog bite.  I think it’s right up there with impact weapons . . .”
—Mike Knolls, Special Operations Unit, Utah Department of Corrections, October 26, 2005

One of the iconic pictures from Abu Ghraib shows an unmuzzled German Shepherd straining at his leash a few inches in front of a detainee, who is crouched in terror. Two Army Sergeants have been convicted in courts-martial of using their dogs to harass, threaten, and assault detainees. Yet five U.S. state prison systems—those of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah—continue to authorize the use of large unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners to secure their compliance with orders to permit themselves to be handcuffed and removed from their cells. While the prisoner tries to fend off the dog, officers move in to take hold of him, apply restraints and then remove him from his cell. 

The use of dogs to threaten and attack prisoners to facilitate cell extractions has been a well-kept secret, even in the world of corrections. Human Rights Watch has spoken with more than two dozen current and former correctional officials who had no idea dogs were authorized, much less ever used, for this purpose. Many were, as one said, “flabbergasted.”

In three of the five states that authorize use of dogs in cell extraction, the policies appear to be used rarely if at all. In Connecticut (20 cases in 2005) and Iowa (63 cases between March 2005 and March 2006), use of dogs for this purpose is far more common.

Human Rights Watch knows of no other country in the world that authorizes the use of dogs to attack prisoners who will not voluntarily leave their cells. Dogs are often used in prisons in the United States and elsewhere to patrol perimeters and to search for contraband, a use that does not raise human rights concerns.

When Human Rights Watch began this research in 2005, two additional states, Massachusetts and Arizona, also permitted the use of dogs in cell extractions. In 2006, however, corrections departments in those states instituted new policies prohibiting such use of dogs. We welcome these decisions and urge the corrections departments of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah to follow suit. If they do not do so, the respective state legislatures should enact legislation prohibiting the practice. The American Correctional Association, which publishes standards for professional corrections management, should include a prohibition on the use of dogs for cell extractions in its use of force standards.