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ACLU sues Mass. prisons over visitor searches

January 8, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union and a prisoners’ rights group sued the Massachusetts state prisons department in an effort to stop the agency from using drug-sniffing dogs to search prison visitors.

The lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court seeks a preliminary injunction to bar the searches and allow for public comment on the policy, which the Department of Correction implemented in November to prevent drugs and other contraband from getting into the hands of inmates.

“Although DOC is properly concerned about the presence of drugs inside the prisons, intrusive searches by dogs that may terrify children and be regarded as a significant invasion of privacy will inevitably reduce the numbers of visits and make it more difficult for those who do come to have a normal meeting with their loved ones,” the ACLU and Prisoners’ Legal Services wrote in a legal filing.

The dogs are vulnerable to “false positives,” in which they can mistake normal scents for narcotics, the plaintiffs said.

A spokesman for the state agency that oversees the Correction Department defended the use of dogs in a statement to The Boston Globe (http://b.globe.com/1a7ZD9t ).

“The DOC’s use of passive drug detection dogs enhances prison security and the safety of inmates, their families and staff by stemming the flow of illegal drugs into our prisons,” Terrel Harris said. “The dogs are an integral element of our efforts to rehabilitate inmates and return them addiction-free into our communities.”

The department said the program was begun in response to “an increase in drug and other contraband-related incidents involving visitors.”

Golden retrievers or Labrador retrievers are used for the searches because of their “inherent gentle natures,” the department said.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24.


Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com

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