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Virginia Legislators Limit Use of Prison Attack-Dogs

Virginia Legislators on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill addressing the Virginia Department of Corrections' reliance on attack-trained dogs in prisons. The legislation followed Business Insider's investigatory report last summer that documented Virginia's use of attack canines. According to the investigation, of the 295 incidents between 2017 to 2022 where attack-trained dogs bit incarcerated people, Virginia accounted for 271 of the incidents. Arizona came in second with 15. "The reports are absolutely appalling," the bill's patron, Delegate Holly Seibold, said in a committee meeting in January. "They are complete human rights violations." 

Seibold's initial bill prohibited all patrol or security canine use in any state or local correctional facility. After adopting several amendments, the bill's scope is now narrower: It allows the use of attack dogs if immediately necessary to protect any prisoner or any officer or employee from the threat of severe bodily injury or death, according to Courthouse News. With the prior approval of the warden or a supervisor, patrol or security canines can also be used to intervene in a fight between three or more prisoners. While 12 states authorize the use of attack dogs, only eight continue using them: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona and Virginia. The dogs used in prisons often inflict gruesome injuries, because handlers train the dogs to latch onto the prisoner's limbs until released by their human counterparts, explained Oren Nimni, the litigation director for Rights Behind Bars.


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