Jails must stop using dogs near immigration detainees

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

NEWARK, N.J. -- Jails and detention centers around the country must stop using police dogs to control immigration detainees as of Saturday under a new policy issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security, issued a memo to its field offices last month ordering them to refrain from contracting with lockups that use dogs around detainees.

The lockups will still be able to use the dogs to sniff for drugs or other contraband, and to guard regular prisoners who are not being held on immigration charges, said bureau spokesman Russ Knocke.

"We believe there are other effective tools that can be used," he said.

Knocke said the department has received complaints about dogs being used against detainees, "but I wouldn't suggest it was cause and effect in terms of the new policy. This is something we had been working on for a number of years."

Immigrant-rights workers praised the decison, but said it was long overdue.

"We are encouraged at this victory," said Eric Lerner, a leader of the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee. "It's clearly the result of the work of immigrants rights groups over the last 18 months since we exposed the use of dogs against detainees."

The Passaic County Jail in Paterson is among 81 detention centers nationwide that use dogs, and one of between seven and 10 using them to control federal immigration detainees. There are 200 to 400 such detainees at the jail, which gets $77 per day from the government for housing each inmate.

Dogs are used to accompany prisoners being transferred to and from the infirmary, or to break up fights.

National Public Radio last month aired a report and made public documents describing a dog attack at the jail. The jail temporarily stopped using dogs around detainees last month, but recently resumed the practice.

Bill Maer, a spokesman for Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale, said the jail will comply with the Saturday deadline by moving detainees to a different section of the jail where dogs will not be permitted.

"The sheriff feels very strongly that canines are an integral part of security," Maer said. "He will not allow safety to be compromised or for a single employee to be injured."

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