I recently read Ken Hartnett’s Christmas letter about the Ancient Scribe and Dory, his Angel Dog. The Ancient Scribe was right on the money about our capacity to discover humanity in the presence of animals but to completely fail at it with our fellow man.
Hartnett’s piece also reminded me of how we treat the humans in our jails.
The National Sheriff’s Association — the organization representing rogue sheriffs like Sam Page, David Clarke, and Tom Hodgson, which celebrates the abuses of Customs and Border Patrol officers — has a soft spot for animals.
Yes, the NSA actually endorsed legislation on animal cruelty, arguing that there is a link between animal cruelty and cruelty to humans. And who would disagree?
But the sheriffs don’t appreciate the irony of defending puppies while torturing humans in the county jails they themselves operate.
Not to be outdone by Stetson-hatted hypocrites, last month Donald Trump just signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT), giving rights to animals that he himself refuses to extend to Central American children in his concentration camps.
But showing concern for animal rights while simultaneously being indifferent to human life and suffering is a feature of laws right here in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts has animal cruelty statutes that provide for up to seven years in prison for animal abuse. In 2016 the Attorney General charged ten people with the mistreatment of over a thousand animals on a farm in Westport.
But when it comes to protecting the state’s prison population, the AG’s office has refused to deploy its own civil rights division to stop an epidemic of jail abuses including suicides and cruel and unusual punishments.
In March 2019 the Animal Legal Defense Fund named Massachusetts state senator Mark Montigny as one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders for his sponsorship of the PAWS II Act, a comprehensive set of animal protection legislation.
But even before Montigny’s bill became law, the rights of dogs and cats in the Commonwealth had a leg up — four legs up, actually — on the rights of their human counterparts. According to Massachusetts General Laws, Part I, Title XX, Chapter 140, Section 137C:
“The mayor of a city, the selectmen of a town, the police commissioner in the city of Boston, a chief of police or an animal control officer may at any time inspect a kennel or cause the inspection of a kennel. If, in the judgment of such person or body, the kennel is not being maintained in a sanitary and humane manner or if records are not properly kept as required by law, such person or body shall, by order, revoke or suspend the license for the kennel.”
That’s right. Kennels may be freely inspected by public officials if conditions are believed to be unsanitary or inhumane. Inspection is a right that not even state legislators can exercise in Massachusetts “corrections” facilities.
For dogs, state law likewise regulates confinement:
“No person owning or keeping a dog shall chain or tether a dog for longer than 5 hours in a 24–hour period and outside from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., unless the tethering is for not more than 15 minutes and the dog is not left unattended by the owner, guardian or keeper.”
Right again. “No excessive solitary” for dogs is written into Massachusetts law — while we wait for the courts to decide if the overuse of solitary confinement on mentally-ill prisoners in Bristol County represents cruel and unusual punishment, as a Prisoners’ Legal Services suit asserts.
Under Massachusetts law, a dog must be given adequate space to move around in and environmental considerations (including heat and cold) are strictly regulated. Several specific types of inhumane treatment are prohibited:
“(1) filthy and dirty confinement conditions including, but not limited to, exposure to excessive animal waste, garbage, dirty water, noxious odors, dangerous objects that could injure or kill a dog upon contact or other circumstances that could cause harm to a dog’s physical or emotional health;
(2) taunting, prodding, hitting, harassing, threatening or otherwise harming a tethered or confined dog; and
(3) subjecting a dog to dangerous conditions, including attacks by other animals.”
No such protections exist for the safety and well-being of humans confined in Massachusetts jails and prisons. Last year we discovered that corrections officers had organized racist gladiator fights in the Dartmouth jail.
Finally, it boggles my mind that “inhumane” is the adjective we use to describe the mistreatment of animals — but not of fellow humans who, shown no pity, instead are believed to “deserve what they get” in the American carceral system.
But there is a solution. By simply re-designating jails as “kennels” — a name change prison rights advocates point out already describes conditions in state prisons and jails — human prisoners in Massachusetts can finally receive the legal rights their four-legged friends already enjoy.
It’s a crazy idea, I know. But not half as insane as what we do to our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors, whom we abuse in filthy, inhumane conditions with no intention of ever rehabilitating them.