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I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 16 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

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Massachusetts residents say NO to prison visitor dog sniffing policy

by Leah Sakala, May 23, 2013

We were concerned as soon as we heard about the Massachusetts Department of Corrections’ plans to start using dogs to screen families and friends visiting loved ones in prison. After all, encouraging in-person visits is key to allowing incarcerated people to maintain the family and community ties that are central to success after release. Using dogs to search family members, friends, clergy, volunteers, and other visitors is deeply invasive and degrading, and can turn essential family visits into potentially traumatizing experiences.

We (along with many other concerned Massachusetts residents) told the Department of Corrections, the Executive Secretary of Public Safety, and the Governor’s Office that the dog sniffing policy is a terrible idea. And on April 10th, the Boston Globe Editorial Board warned the Department of Corrections about the grave consequences the policy could have.

So, we were very surprised to read in a recent Valley Advocate article that Terrel Harris, spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, claims that “the department has received no public feedback about the plan.” It’s clear that this statement is, at best, incorrect, as we’ve clarified in a Letter to the Editor printed in this week’s issue.

The message is being sent loud and clear: the public knows that this policy will unnecessarily deter family visits and thereby make it harder for people released from custody to successfully rejoin their communities. The dog sniffing policy has already been put on hold; it should be canceled outright.

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