New legislation would prevent Va. prisons from using dogs to control inmates

Prisons in Virginia would no longer be allowed to use dogs to control inmates under legislation introduced by Democratic Del. Holly Seibold.

“I’ve been hearing stories about attack dogs that are being used, and they are causing severe injuries,” Seibold said.

Seibold cited a Business Insider investigation from July 2023 that claimed dogs in Virginia prisons attacked hundreds of incarcerated people from 2017 to 2022, which amounted to the most instances by far of any state.

According to the investigation, there were 295 such instances in prisons across eight states, and 271 of them happened in Virginia.

“The attacks here in Virginia are 90% of the attacks in the entire country,” Seibold said. “Clearly, there’s a major problem in our Virginia prisons.”

Under Seibold’s bill, it would be “unlawful for any correctional officer, jail officer, or other employee of a state, local, or juvenile correctional facility to use a patrol or security canine in any state, local, or juvenile correctional facility.”

The bill specifies, however, that the restrictions would “not apply to the training or use of detector canines or detector canine handlers.”

Seibold said dogs are primarily used in Virginia’s highest security prisons, including Keen Mountain Correctional Center, Sussex II State Prison, River North Correctional Center, Red Onion State Prison and Wallens Ridge State Prison.

“It’s something that is really troubling,” Seibold said. “What I’m hearing from families is that a lot of times we’re using them just to extract someone out of the cell, and there’s got to be options other than using canines.”

It is not clear how much support Seibold may have for the legislation. She said she has already heard from critics who believe dogs help keep prisoners, and those who work at prisons, safer.

In some cases, prison officials have used the dogs to break up fights.

When asked for comment on the bill, Christian Martinez, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said only that “the governor will review any legislation when it comes to his desk.”

WTOP has reached out for comment from the Virginia Department of Corrections.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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