There’s no escaping the Dirty Two Dozen
Nobody has busted out of the Idaho Correctional Center in more than 20 years, and prison officials say the credit goes to the Dirty Two Dozen — a team of snarling guard dogs that patrol the perimeter.
Their names sound friendly enough – Cookie, Bongo and Chi Chi among them — but the dogs, they say, are a mean lot, former death row inmates deemed too dangerous to be pets. Most would have been euthanized at the local pound if not for the prison duty that served as their reprieve.
The program began in 1986, when 24 dogs — German shepherds, Rottweilers and Belgian malinois, boxers and pit bulls — were placed in the space between the inner and outer chain-link fences that surround the prison.
The canines require no salary, don’t join unions and are more reliable during power outages than electrical security systems. They also seem to have a powerful deterrent effect.
“We’re basically giving them a second chance at a good, healthy life,” Corrections Officer Michael Amos, who heads the sentry dog program, told the Associated Press. ”Those same instincts that make them a bad pet make them good sentries.”
“The average offender has no problem engaging in a fight with a correctional officer — they’re used to fighting with humans. But they don’t want to mess with a 100-pound rottweiler who has an attitude and who wants to bite the snot out of them for climbing that fence,” said James Closson, a dog trainer in Boise. He arranged the donation of some overaggressive dogs to the prison when the sentry program was new.
Over the years, the dogs have bitten handlers, badly mauling a staff member who in the late 1990s entered the kennel without first making sure all the animals were caged. But no inmates locked up at the prison have been bitten, authorities said.
Interestingly, the prison also has a program in which inmates train and care for shelter dogs, designed to give the dogs a better chance of getting adopted. But those dogs, though they may have behavioral issues, aren’t as hard core as those that guard the fence.
Dogs were once widely used as sentries, according to the AP story, but the practice fell out of favor during the civil rights era as police dogs became associated with racist and repressive law enforcement.
Many prisons continue to use dogs for tracking escaped inmates or sniffing out drugs or other contraband, but not as sentries.
Angus Love, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, an inmate advocacy group, said he knows of no complaints about the use of prison sentry dogs. Adam Goldfarb, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said that the Idaho prison appeared to be handling the dogs well, but that he had mixed feelings about the program.
“We love the thoughts behind it, of taking dogs who would otherwise be euthanized and finding a way to work with them and give them a kind of purpose to their life,” Goldfarb said. “But we’d have concerns of the dogs being harmed in some way, if an inmate could throw or poke something through the fence that could harm the dogs. And I’m not sure what kind of life that is for a dog. When people have dogs in their home, we would certainly discourage them from leaving the dog on a chain or in a pen for most of their life.”
The dogs work two days on and one day off. On their days off, they are returned to their kennel, where their handlers groom them, play ball and tug-of-war with them, or, in the summer, let them splash in a plastic kiddie pool. The handlers have to be alert at all times because of the danger of getting bitten.
The program, with 36 dogs in all, costs less than $100,000 a year, including food and veterinary care, Christensen said.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 25th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adam golfarb, angus love, belgian malinois, boise, boxers, center, correctional, corrections, criminals, deterrence, deterrent, dogs, escapes, fence, guard, humane society, idaho, mean, pennsylvania institutional law project, perimeter, pit bulls, prison, prisoners, rottweilers, sentries, shepherds