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Massachusetts to Bring Drug-Sniffing Dogs to State Prisons

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Massachusetts will soon bring drug-sniffing dogs to 17 state prisons, according to Boston Magazine. The dogs will sniff visiting areas and visitors.

If the dog detects drugs, the visitor must consent to a thorough search by Department of Corrections (DOC) staff. Anyone refusing to be searched will not be allowed to enter the facility. Alternate arrangements will be made for people who have dog allergies or who are “dog phobic,” the magazine notes.

In a statement, the DOC says the dogs are Labrador and Golden Retrievers chosen for their gentle natures. “These dogs are always on a leash and handled by trained personnel, who will walk them past the line of visitors. They have been carefully trained to detect the presence of drugs by smell and to alert their handlers to that detection by merely sitting down.” The dogs do not bark, snarl or lunge at people suspected of having drugs, the statement notes. A video demonstrates how the dogs will be used to detect drugs.

The dog searches will be random, and will begin at the two prisons with the highest rates of visitors who try to bring in drugs. The procedure will not apply to volunteers, contractors and attorneys visiting their inmate clients.

Lois Ahrens, Executive Director of the Real Cost of Prisons Project, says the new drug-sniffing dog policy is “demeaning, degrading, and treats the visitor as a suspect.”

Visitors currently go through a scanner before entering a state prison. They are often asked to take off articles of clothing such as shoes and belts. Visitors are sometimes asked to open their mouth, or a DOC staff person may examine their hair.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police must first obtain a search warrant before bringing drug-sniffing police dogs onto a suspect’s property to look for evidence.

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