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United States

H U M A N

Cruel and Degrading

R I G H T S

The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons

W A T C H

October 2006

Volume 18, No. 5(G)

Cruel and Degrading
The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons
Summary ................................................................................................................. 1
Cell Extractions ........................................................................................................3
How Dogs Are Used in Cell Extractions .....................................................................5
Policy and Practice in Seven States......................................................................... 8
Arizona .............................................................................................................. 8
Connecticut ....................................................................................................... 9
Delaware .......................................................................................................... 10
Iowa ................................................................................................................. 10
Massachusetts ................................................................................................. 11
South Dakota.................................................................................................... 11
Utah ................................................................................................................. 11
Views of Corrections Professionals and Experts ..................................................... 12
Standards Governing Use of Force in Prisons ......................................................... 16
Conclusion .............................................................................................................18
Acknowledgments..................................................................................................18
Appendix ............................................................................................................... 19

Summary
“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.

1

Human rights watch October 2006

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.

Cruel and degrading

2

Cell Extractions
The use of force is inherent in the very nature of involuntary confinement. In prisons,
“the responsible deployment of force is not only justifiable on many occasions, but
absolutely necessary to maintain the security of the institution.”1 The need to use
force in a prison may sometimes include the forcible removal of an inmate from his
cell, called a “cell extraction.”
Cell extractions are security measures, not disciplinary mechanisms. In wellmanaged correctional systems, they are used only in response to an imminent and
serious risk to the safety and security of an individual or of the institution. In such
prisons, officers know cell extractions are rarely needed; in some prisons, however,
the institutional culture permits cell extractions simply to show inmates “who’s in
charge” or to retaliate against defiant inmates, even if there is no real emergency.
When the decision has been made that an inmate cannot be allowed to remain in his
cell, properly trained staff will make every effort to avoid a forced cell extraction.
Officers will talk with the inmate. Indeed, it may be necessary for corrections staff to
talk to an inmate for a prolonged period and then allow the inmate a “cooling down”
period to increase chances that forcible extraction will not be necessary. Counselors
or mental health staff may be brought in to talk to the inmate. If verbal efforts fail, in
many facilities pepper spray is used to overcome the inmate’s resistance.2
If officials decide to go ahead with a forcible cell extraction, the increasingly
prevalent practice is to use a team of four to six specially trained correctional officers.
They wear protective equipment that typically includes major torso padding, Kevlar
sleeves, big black gauntlets, a helmet, a face plate, and a groin guard. The team
lines up in front of the cell, and the officers ask the inmate one more time whether he
is willing to “cuff up”—submit to restraint and leave the cell. If the inmate continues
his resistance, the team enters the cell. Often, the first member of the team to enter
1

Madrid v Gomez, 889 F.Supp 1146, 1283 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

2

Even if the inmate is in a cell with a solid door and has blocked the sally port with his mattress, there are devices to make
sure the gas enters and overcomes the inmate.

3

Human rights watch October 2006

the cell carries a large convex Plexiglas shield or a stun shield (a shield equipped
with an electric current which stuns the inmate on contact) with which he pins the
inmate against the wall. The other members of the team then gain control of and
place restraints on the inmate’s arms and legs. In most cases, a well trained cell
extraction team is able to secure the removal of even a violent prisoner with minimal
or no harm to him or staff.

Cruel and degrading

4

How Dogs Are Used in Cell Extractions
The dogs used for cell extractions typically are German Shepherds or Belgian
Malinois—both large breeds of dog that usually weigh well over sixty pounds and
stand over two feet high.3 The dogs are usually imported from Europe and often
undergo preliminary training with breeders or those selling the dogs. Prison handlers
continue the training, using decoys to train the dog in “apprehension”—i.e. biting on
command and releasing on command. Usually, a dog lives with its primary handler,
and the two develop a close bond.
When a handler and his dog enter a cell block in connection with a possible cell
extraction, the dog barks loudly and continuously, jumping up against the cell door
and scratching at the window, as seen in two videotaped cell extractions with dogs
that are available on the Human Rights Watch website.4 The dog’s barking and
presence outside the prisoner’s cell is intended to terrify and intimidate the prisoner
into compliance with the order to “cuff up.” If the prisoner continues to resist, he
knows the dog will be loosed on him. Some prisoners will wrap blankets, towels, and
even toilet paper around their limbs to try to protect themselves from dog bites.
When the guards open the cell door, the leashed dog enters the cell first. The dog
handler is supposed to maintain his hold on the dog’s leash while it attacks the
prisoner. But this is not always the case. As one prisoner in Connecticut described
his experience: “The dog was barking uncontrollably and jumping up and out
towards me. The k-9 officers released the dog leash, and the dog, a German
Shepherd, charged me.”5
The dog is trained to bite whatever part of the prisoner it can grasp first. According to
an Iowa corrections official, “[The dogs are] taught a deep—a full-mouth bite. The

3

As of August 25, 2006, 37 state prison systems have canine units. They are typically trained to sniff for drugs or other
contraband and are sometimes trained and used for crowd control during riots.
4

The videos are of cell extractions using dogs in Massachusetts on June 14, 2004 and in Connecticut on November 3, 2000.

5

Letter to Human Rights Watch from M.B., a prisoner in the Connecticut Department of Corrections, March 17, 2006.

5

Human rights watch October 2006

dog opens his mouth real wide and gets as much as [he can] whether it’s a thigh or
whatever in his mouth.”6
While the prisoner tries to fend off or wrestle with the dog, officers enter the cell, use
whatever force remains necessary to subdue him, and put restraints on him. At some
point, the dog handler will call off the dog, although the dog may remain in the cell.
When dogs were used for cell extractions in Arizona, the procedure was different.
Instead of going into the cell with the dog, the dog handler would remain outside
holding on to a thirty foot leash attached to a harness on the dog. The dog would be
let into the cell, jump up on the prisoner, and bite him. Once the dog had a hold of
the prisoner, the officers would pull on the dog’s leash and drag the dog and the
prisoner, gripped by the dog’s jaws, out of the cell. A training video formerly used by
the Arizona Department of Corrections shows a simulated cell extraction using this
method; it is available on the Human Rights Watch website at
http://hrw.org/campaigns/us/2006/prisons1006/index.htm.
During cell extractions using dogs, there is almost always an injury to the prisoner—
“at the very least a puncture.”7 If the prisoner resists, he might suffer more serious
muscle or tissue tearing. A former prison dog handler from Arizona told Human
Rights Watch that most of the injuries he had seen were puncture wounds. But, he
said: “The most common mistake is for the person who is being bitten to jerk back.
This creates a tearing.” He said that although people have been bitten pretty badly,
he had never seen any unexpected injuries “like losing a limb, fingers or an ear.”8 A
Iowa corrections official told Human Rights Watch that he was not aware of any
serious injuries caused by the dogs.9

6

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with John Fayram, acting warden of Anamosa State Penitentiary, Iowa, December
12, 2005.
7

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with senior correctional officer in a state which has been using dogs, and who
requested anonymity, November 28, 2005.
8

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with former corrections employee who requested anonymity, November 28, 2005.

9

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

Cruel and degrading

6

Some prisoners, however, have described long-term injuries as a result of dog bites
that occurred during cell extractions. For example, one Connecticut prisoner wrote:
I freed my leg from the dog’s mouth and I fell backward to the floor.
The dog charged me again while I was down. I raised my left hand to
block the dog’s bite and it sank its teeth completely through my
hand … My left hand has suffered permanent damage. I lost a lot of
feeling in my middle and ring fingers and I have a “pin & needles”
feeling in my index finger and thumb. This is due to multiple nerves
being severed from the dog bite. This information has all been
recurred [sic] in my D.O.C. medical file.10
Prisoners also suggested that the handlers do not always have control over the dogs.
A prisoner in Connecticut described an incident in which he was in a two-man cell
while officers with a dog were involved in an altercation with his cell-mate. Although
he was kneeling against the wall with his hands up, he was nonetheless attacked by
the dog. “The k-9 bit me on my back by my lower left shoulder by the back bone.”11
The dog handler who participated in this cell extraction noted in his incident report:
“Inmate [O] went toward the wall and to his knees. K-9 Rony had slipped out of his
collar and bit inmate [O] on the back.”12

10

Letter to Human Rights Watch from M.D., a prisoner in Connecticut.

11

Letter to Human Rights Watch from I.O., a prisoner in Connecticut, dated February 2006.

12

Ibid. Prisoner I.O. sent Human Rights Watch a copy of the incident report.

7

Human rights watch October 2006

Policy and Practice in Seven States
Human Rights Watch has identified seven states that have allowed the use of dogs in
cell extractions: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, South Dakota,
and Utah. As noted at the outset, Arizona and Massachusetts prohibited such use of
dogs in 2006.

Arizona
In 1997, Terry Stewart, then director of the state’s department of corrections testified
in front of the state legislature that there had been 41 staff injuries during the 225
cell extractions conducted that year. Stewart explained that he was authorizing the
training of dogs to conduct cell extractions in order to protect staff.13 A former
correctional officer and dog handler who worked for the Arizona Department of
Corrections while Terry Stewart was the director said he used to use dogs for cell
extractions approximately two or three times per month.14 After the current director,
Dora Schriro, took office in 2003, she sought to reduce the use of cell extractions in
general and the number of cell extractions with dogs dropped dramatically. There
were three cell extractions with dogs in 2004 and 2005.15 Director Schriro instituted
a moratorium on the use of dogs for cell extractions in 2005 pending the results of a
complete review of the state’s use of force policies.16 On March 29, 2006 she made
the moratorium permanent with a new departmental instruction prohibiting the use
of dogs for cell extractions.17

13

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Robert D. Myers, General Counsel, Arizona Department of Corrections, March
20, 2006.
14

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a former Arizona Department of Corrections employee who requested
anonymity, November 28, 2005. The Department of Corrections was unable to locate statistics on cell extractions or cell
extractions with dogs prior to 2003. Director Schriro took office in August, 2003.
15

Ibid.

16

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Robert D. Myers, General Counsel, Arizona Department of Corrections, March
20, 2006.

17

Letter to Human Rights Watch from Robert D. Myers, General Counsel, Arizona Department of Corrections, May 2, 2006.

Cruel and degrading

8

Connecticut
The Connecticut Department of Correction began using dogs for cell extractions in
1985. They were first used at Somers State Prison as a “visible deterrent, to assist
staff and provide a non-lethal response to inmate generated violence within the
facilities particularly when the inmate presents a high risk of injury to the public, to
staff or other inmates.”18 Under current policy, dogs may be used in a cell extraction
“when verbal intervention has been exhausted and chemical agent cannot be
used.”19 The only statistics the Department of Correction provided Human Rights
Watch on the frequency with which dogs have been used in cell extractions were for
2005. In that year, staff brought dogs onto the cell blocks for cell extractions twenty
times. In eleven of these incidents, the dogs were directly involved in the cell
extractions. In the other nine, the dogs were not sent into the cell.20 It is not clear
whether Connecticut permits the use of dogs for cell extractions when the prisoner is
mentally ill. A Department of Corrections employee told Human Rights Watch that he
“couldn’t imagine we would use dogs” for cell extractions of the mentally ill. “There
is too much potential for things to go wrong because you cannot assume someone
who is mentally ill will act in a rational manner.”21 According to the department’s
public affairs office, however, dogs may be used on prisoners with mental illness
after a “direct mental health intervention has failed and the inmate is considered to
be a threat to staff or his/her self.”22

18

Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Brian Garnett, Connecticut Department of Correction, “Response to
Questions from Human Rights Watch,” December 20, 2005. On file with Human Rights Watch.
19

Ibid. The use of dogs is governed by Administrative Directives 6.5, Use of Force and 6.11, Canine Unit, available at
www.ct.gov/doc.

20

Ibid. A dog was also used to apprehend an escaped inmate in 2005. In addition, according to Garnett, there were two
incidents in which individuals were “inadvertently bitten” by dogs. “One involved an unruly inmate, the other a staff member
who, while responding to an incident, accidentally came in contact with the dog.”

21

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with official in the Connecticut Department of Correction who requested
anonymity, November 28, 2005.
22

Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Brian Garnett, Connecticut Department of Correction, “Response to
Questions from Human Rights Watch,” December 20, 2005.

9

Human rights watch October 2006

Delaware
Under the rules of the Delaware Department of Corrections, dogs may be used during
cell extractions. According to a state Department of Corrections media relations
officer, no dogs have been used in a cell extraction in the past twenty years.23

Iowa
The Iowa Department of Corrections began using dogs for cell extractions in 1994.
The idea came from an officer who knew police forces were using dogs, and who
thought corrections might be able to use dogs effectively as well.24 He suggested the
idea to a warden, and the use of dogs took hold. As of March of 2006, Iowa had
fifteen canine teams (or fifteen dogs, each paired with a handler). Between March of
2005 and March of 2006, dogs were brought next to a cell 63 times for possible use
in cell extractions. In 48 of these incidents, according to a prison official, the
presence of the dog changed the prisoner’s attitude so that force did not need to be
used. In ten of the incidents, even though dogs were brought to the prisoner’s cell,
officers used other means of physical force to gain compliance from a prisoner. In
five incidents, the dog was sent into the cell and bit the prisoner.25
Dogs will not be used for cell extractions in Iowa if the inmate is mentally ill: “The
department has determined that when we know, when we’re aware a person has a
history of mental illness, canines don’t get used in that situation . . . We don’t want
to aggravate a situation, if the person acting out isn’t going to comprehend the
meaningfulness of the dogs present.”26

23

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Beth Welch, Media Relations Unit, Delaware Department of Corrections,
January 2006.

24

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

25

Ibid.

26

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with John Fayram, acting warden of Anamosa State Penitentiary, Iowa, December
5, 2005.

Cruel and degrading

10

Massachusetts
Dogs had been used by the Massachusetts Department of Correction for extractions
and other control purposes for more than fifteen years when the practice ended in
2006. Before a dog could even be brought onto a cell block in Massachusetts, the
Commissioner of the Department had to be contacted for approval. In the two years
prior to the rule prohibiting their use, dogs were brought onto the cell block four
times, and were actually sent into the cell twice.27 A videotape of one of those
instances is available on the Human Rights Watch website. According to his lawyer,
the inmate who was attacked by a dog in the videotape is mentally ill, and had been
bitten by dogs prior to the incident in question.28 On April 25, 2006 Commissioner
Kathleen Dennehy issued a statement indicating that dogs would no longer be
authorized for cell extractions.

South Dakota
The South Dakota Department of Corrections has one dog trained to conduct cell
extractions. According to the department’s public information office, the dog has
never been used for this purpose.29

Utah
Utah has trained and deployed dogs in prison for over a decade for “patrol work,
apprehension, and detection.” According to an officer with the Special Operations
Unit, which handles the dogs, in the past fifteen years they have only been used
twice for cell extractions.30

27

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Kathleen Dennehy, Commissioner, and James Bender, Deputy Commissioner,
Massachusetts Department of Correction, December 16, 2005.

28

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Lauren Petit, an attorney with Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services,
December 5, 2005.

29

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dave Schiefen, South Dakota Department of Corrections, January 2006.

30

Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mike Knolls, an officer in the Special Operations Unit of the Utah
Department of Corrections, October 26, 2006.

11

Human rights watch October 2006

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, dayafter-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

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.

Cruel and degrading

12

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 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
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.

13

Human rights watch October 2006

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,
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.

Cruel and degrading

14

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.

43

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

15

Human rights watch October 2006

Standards Governing Use of Force in Prisons
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual
punishment,” interpreted to reflect evolving standards of decency. Prohibited
punishment includes excessive or unnecessary force by prison staff that is not
“applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline” but instead is done
“maliciously or sadistically to cause harm.” There is no jurisprudence on the
constitutionality of using dogs for cell extractions.
State and federal correctional policies regarding use of force typically reflect three
key principles: 1) force should only be used when necessary; 2) the nature or amount
of force used should be proportional to the need, i.e., no more than necessary; and 3)
physical force should not be used as punishment.44 Use of force policies also
typically enumerate the kinds of force that may be used—e.g., some permit the use
of electronic stun devices, others do not. As noted above, there is a pervasive view
within corrections that the use of dogs for cell extractions is not a necessary or
appropriate option because there are always better and equally effective alternatives.
There is also a sense that there is something inherently wrong or distasteful in using
an animal for this purpose.
International human rights law illuminates why the use of dogs in cell extractions is
wrong. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United
States has ratified, mandates that “[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be
treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Human Rights Watch believes that deliberately instilling terror into an inmate by
exploiting the primal fear of aggressive dogs and deliberately permitting a snarling,
barking dog to bite the inmate cannot be squared with fundamental human dignity.
The Covenant, as well as the Convention against Torture (also ratified by the United
States), both affirm the right of inmates to not be subjected to treatment that

44

See Appendix for relevant provisions from Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Body of Principles for
the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment; and Basic Principles on the Use of Force and
Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (which applies to prison officials as well as police).

Cruel and degrading

16

constitutes torture or is otherwise cruel, inhuman or degrading. We believe that the
use of dogs in cell extractions is degrading and could even be inhuman, depending
on the extent of injury from the dog. The use of a fierce animal to control an
imprisoned person is inherently humiliating, denying an inmate’s personhood.
Terrifying an inmate into compliance also denies his personal integrity. It reduces the
inmate himself to an animal crouched in fear in the face of attack.
The principles of proportionality and necessity also come into play here. International
human rights law instruments limit the staff use of force in prison to situations when it
is necessary, and then permit only so much force as is necessary.45 In light of
alternative methods to maintain control over an individual inmate who is locked in his
cell, it is difficult to conceive of situations in which the use of an attack dog for a cell
extraction could ever pass the tests of necessity and proportionality.

45

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 54(3), adopted Aug. 30, 1955 by the First United Nations
Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders; The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by
Law Enforcement Officials, Principles 4,5, and 15, adopted Sept. 7, 1990 by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders; and Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, Article 3, adopted Dec.
17, 1979 by General Assembly resolution 34/169.

17

Human rights watch October 2006

Conclusion
There are basically two categories of prison abuse: conduct which is sanctioned by
express policy and misconduct that violates policy. The use of dogs to assist in cell
extractions is an example of the former. As such, it is also is easy to eradicate – a
mere stroke of the pen can suffice.
The goal of protecting staff or deterring inmate misconduct cannot justify the use of
dogs to terrorize and even bite prisoners. Security and control can be maintained
while treating inmates at all times, and in all circumstances, decently, humanely,
and justly.

Acknowledgments
This report was written by Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program at Human Rights
Watch with the assistance of Keramet Reiter, former associate for the U.S. program.
Most of the research was conducted by Reiter. Dinah Pokempner, general counsel,
and Joe Saunders, deputy program director, reviewed the report. Ashoka Mukpo, U.S.
program associate, provided production assistance.
We wish to thank the many past and present corrections officials who spoke with us
in the course of our research.
We also wish to thank Peter B. Lewis and the Open Society Institute for their
generous support of the efforts of the U.S. program to address human rights
violations in U.S. prisons.

Cruel and degrading

18

Appendix
I. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_comp34.htm

Rule 54(3):
Except in special circumstances, staff performing duties which bring them into direct
contact with prisoners should not be armed. Furthermore, staff should in no
circumstances be provided with arms unless they have been trained in their use.

II. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement
Officials
http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_comp43.htm

Principle 4:
Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply
non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use
force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of
achieving the intended result.

Principle 5:
Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement
officials shall:
(a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of
the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved;
(b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life;
(c) Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or
affected persons at the earliest possible moment;
(d) Ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are
notified at the earliest possible moment.

19

Human rights watch October 2006

Principle 15:
Law enforcement officials, in their relations with persons in custody or detention,
shall not use force, except when strictly necessary for the maintenance of security
and order within the institution, or when personal safety is threatened.

III. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials
http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/h_comp42.htm

Article 3:
Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the
extent required for the performance of their duty.
Commentary:
(a) This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement
officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials
may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the
circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the
lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders, no force going beyond that
may be used.
(b) National law ordinarily restricts the use of force by law enforcement
officials in accordance with a principle of proportionality. It is to be
understood that such national principles of proportionality are to be
respected in the interpretation of this provision. In no case should this
provision be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is
disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

Cruel and degrading

20

H UMA N R I G H TS WATCH
350 Fifth Avenue, 34 th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299

H U M A N

www.hrw.org

W A T C H

Cruel and Degrading
The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons
One of the most iconic images from Abu Ghraib is of a detainee crouched in terror before a snarling dog barely
restrained by its Army dog handler. Yet Human Rights Watch has discovered that in the United States, five U.S.
state prison systems permit the use of large aggressive dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners. An additional
two states just ended the practice.
The dogs are used to help officials conduct a forced cell extraction. If a prisoner will not voluntarily leave his
cell when ordered to do so, correctional 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 are able to get restraints on him and forcibly extract him
from his cell. The dog is then called off. Human Rights Watch knows of no other country in the world that
officially permits dogs to be used in prisons this way.
This appalling practice has been a well-kept secret in the Untied States, even within the world of corrections
professionals. With this report, Human Rights Watch hopes to prompt the states which permit the use of dogs
in cell extractions to repudiate this cruel and degrading practice.

A German Shepherd being trained as an
attack dog in California in 2002.
German Shepherds are the breed of dog
most commonly used in cell extractions.
© 2002 Getty Images

R I G H T S

 

 

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