updated 10/11/2006 8:04:44 PM ET 2006-10-12T00:04:44

Five U.S. state prison systems allow the use of trained attack dogs to control inmates, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued Wednesday.

The report, "Cruel and Degrading: The use of dogs for cell extractions in U.S. prisons," says policies in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah allow guards to use "aggressive, unmuzzled" dogs to compel uncooperative inmates to leave their cells. It said dogs may be ordered to bite prisoners if they resist.

"The entire world has seen the photo of an Abu Ghraib detainee crouched in terror before a snarling dog, but the use of attack dogs against prisoners here in the U.S. has been a well-kept secret," said Jamie Fellner, U.S. director of Human Rights Watch. "Longtime corrections professionals were appalled when we told them that guards in some states use dogs on prisoners."

"Human Rights Watch knows of no other country in the world that authorizes the use of dogs to attack prisoners who will not voluntarily leave their cells," the report said.

The independent group, based in New York, said it does not object to the use of dogs to patrol prison grounds.

The report notes that in South Dakota, Utah and Delaware, dogs are rarely used in cells, if at all. In Connecticut, dogs were used in 20 cases in 2005, and in Iowa in 63 cases between March 2005 and March 2006, it says.

However, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction, Brian Garnett, said the number of Connecticut cases is closer to a half-dozen a year. He said the prisons currently have 22 dogs, and have used dogs since the mid-1980s.

"The Connecticut Department of Correction has only used trained canines for cell extraction under extreme circumstances and on minimal occasions," Garnett said. "When an inmate presents an imminent danger to staff or the public and only after all viable options have been exhausted."

Human Rights Watch said prison officials it interviewed in Connecticut and Iowa said using dogs to remove prisoners from cells reduces injuries to guards and keeps prisons safer.

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