Prison Dogs Among DOC Budget Cuts

SPOKANE — A $35 million budget shortfall over two years has the Washington Department of Corrections scrambling to save money without sacrificing security, and the prison system’s very successful canine program is one of the first to be cut.

That impacts dogs like Scully, who is a chocolate lab recruited right out of Spokanimal. Scully was trained to sniff out drugs at the Airway Heights Corrections Center, but because of a budget shortfall, will soon be out of work.

Last year Scully and his handler turned up more than 50 items of contraband, including illegal drugs and weapons. Inmates are so afraid of Scully’s nose, that whenever the dog walks into a housing unit, prisoners start barking as a warning to other offenders to hide their stuff.

“We still have some tools in our belt to interdict the drugs, but the dogs have always been a very good part of that and have provided deterrence for people not to bring in contraband,” Superintendent Maggie Miller-Stout said. “A lot of the contraband is introduced here in visitation. Policy allows an inmate and his visitor to kiss and embrace for just 4 to 5 seconds. But that’s apparently plenty of time to swap some drugs.”

Screening visitors was just one of Scully’s duties. With the help of Murray Cox, the dog also searched inmate cells.

Keeping drugs out of prison means fewer fights and keeping the staff safer, but now all eight canine teams protecting prisons across the state are being retired.

Dropping the programs will save $272,000 per year but no one, other than the inmates, are glad to see the dogs go.

“We will continue to do the searches and U.A.’s and other things we’ve always done. In addition to what the canines have provided, but we’re going to continue be assertive and aggressive at interdicting and stopping the contraband,” Miller-Stout said.

The canine program is expected to be phased out later this fall, however Airway Heights does plan to keep track of the contraband related incidents. If more people start getting intoxicated or assaulted, the Department of Corrections may have to reevaluate its decision to get rid of the dogs.