Views of Corrections Professionals and Experts

Officials in states that use dogs to help remove prisoners from their cells insist the dogs make for “a safer situation overall.”31 They claim that the availability of dogs for cell extractions deters prisoner misconduct and that simply bringing barking dogs to the cell front often prompts an inmate to change his attitude from defiance to compliance. They also insist that the use of dogs reduces the risk of injury to officers who participate in the cell extraction.32 For example, an Iowa official told Human Rights Watch that prior to the use of dogs, officers “were going in cell-after-cell, day-after-day … people were getting hurt, twisted ankles, bit.”33 He believes that after dogs were brought onto the cell blocks, the incidence of forced cell removals decreased dramatically because prisoners did not want to confront the dogs.34

The corrections profession does not share the view that dogs should be used in cell extractions. Forty-five state corrections agencies and the Federal Bureau of Prisons maintain order and secure prisoner compliance without using dogs for that purpose. Two of those states, as noted above, previously used dogs for cell extractions, but concluded the practice was unnecessary. Kathleen Dennehy, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, explained that she ended the use of dogs for cell extractions because she concluded there were acceptable and effective alternatives. “There are other ways to compel inmates to cuff up than sending in an animal to rip his flesh.” 

Human Rights Watch interviewed ten directors of corrections agencies, corrections officials from another five states, and eight nationally and internationally recognized independent experts and consultants in the field of corrections and use of force to explore their views concerning the use of dogs for cell extractions. With one exception—the director of the Iowa Department of Corrections—no one we interviewed thought the practice necessary or justifiable.35  As one individual with extensive corrections experience told Human Rights Watch, the use of dogs is “just not warranted in the closed environment of a prison cell. It’s a level of aggressive control that isn’t necessary. There are ways to ensure compliance and adherence to policy and process that are more effective and less damaging, physically—and potentially psychologically—to an inmate, other than using a dog.”36

Steve Martin, a national expert in use of force policies, is “dead set” against the use of dogs. He insists that even if an attack dog is highly trained and effective, it is simply not as controllable and predictable as other tactics. Moreover, he has never “seen or heard of a situation in which there isn’t an equally effective means [other than using dogs] to neutralize an inmate and protect his safety and that of others.”37 He points out that once a dog enters the cell, there will always be some injury to the prisoner from the dog’s bite. Moreover, if the prisoner resists and tries to defend himself from the dog, the harder the dog will bite.

A retired senior corrections official and a use of force expert shared his view:

In my experience, the use of non-lethal, low impact weapons such as, but not limited to, chemicals properly used, electronic control devices, pressure point control tactics and empty-handed control techniques used by organized, trained, forced cell entry teams in various combinations are adequate to effectively and immediately control an inmate in his/her cell without harm to all involved. These methods have been proven effective throughout the nation under all conditions.  The only time they have not been effective is due to poor technique which can easily be remedied. It is my understanding that a trained attack dog is designed to grab, rip and tear until the dog is mortally wounded or called off by the handler.  … [W]hen this option is used to extract an inmate from a cell it is my opinion that the risk of harm to the inmate does not justify its use because other, less harmful, options are available and effective. Therefore, the additional risk of harm is not justified according to reasonable security needs of any correctional agencies.38

Patrick McManus, a court monitor, special master, and former corrections commissioner said he was extremely troubled by the idea of “siccing dogs on inmates.” He explained: “I cannot picture a responsible corrections person letting a dog loose on a person in a cell.” Nor could he imagine a situation when a dog would truly be necessary.39

Former New Jersey Commissioner of Corrections Devon Brown echoed the view that dogs are simply not necessary: “Why put someone at risk of being bitten by dogs when you have trained staff to perform [the cell extraction] function?”40 Commissioner Brown also echoed many others in pointing out that cell extractions, with or without dogs, are often unnecessary: “Why put anyone in harm’s way if you can wait him out?”41  As Steve Martin said: “The inmate is locked up and isn’t going anywhere. He can usually be talked down or simply out-waited.” Massachusetts’ Commissioner Dennehy agreed: if staff are well trained in de-escalation, “there is rarely any need for a forced cell extraction in the first place.”42

Implicit—and sometimes explicit—in many of the statements to us was the notion that dogs are different; they cannot simply be considered as another way of exercising force over a prisoner; that there is something inherently troubling about the use of a trained attack dog to bite prisoners, regardless of the necessity for the cell extraction. Jeffrey Schwartz, an expert and frequent consultant on use of force, explained his aversion to the concept of using dogs for cell extractions: “This is about who we are, what we are about.”43 Another corrections consultant explained that the public already thinks prisons are brutal and brutalizing places; using dogs for cell extractions just confirms that view.

31 Human Rights Watch email correspondence from John Fayram, acting warden of Anamosa State Penitentiary, March 14, 2006.

32 For example, according to Robert D. Myers, General Counsel, Arizona Department of Corrections, Terry Stewart first authorized the use of dogs in the Arizona Department of Corrections in 1998 in order to prevent the high number of staff injuries that had taken place during cell extractions. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Robert D. Myers, General Counsel, Arizona Department of Corrections, March 20, 2006.

33  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with John Fayram, acting warden of Anamosa State Penitentiary, Iowa, December 12, 2005.

34 The department does not maintain statistics that would confirm Fayram’s belief in the decline of cell extractions after the department began to use dogs.

35 Most of the people we spoke with, including consultants as well as current corrections officials, did not want to be cited by name for fear of antagonizing colleagues or losing possible consulting contracts.

36 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a corrections mental health expert who requested anonymity, November 19, 2005.

37 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Steve Martin, December 8, 2005.

38 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with a former senior corrections official, November 21, 2005.

39 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Patrick McManon, December 12, 2005.

40 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Devon Brown, Commissioner of Corrections, New Jersey Department of Corrections, December 18, 2005.

41 Ibid.

42 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Kathleen Dennehy, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Correction May 5, 2006.

43 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jeffrey Schwartz, February 14, 2005.