Death on a Prison Bus: Extradition Companies’ Safety Improvements Lag

Source: Eli Hager and Alysia Santo, New York Times, March 23, 2017
 
… State correction departments and countless local law enforcement agencies hire extradition companies to retrieve fugitives and suspects. Vans or buses travel long, circuitous routes, sometimes for weeks, with little sleep for guards or prisoners. Because they cross so many jurisdictions, oversight falls into a gray zone. Companies are governed by a 2000 federal law known as Jeanna’s Act, which set broad standards for the treatment of prisoners but has been enforced only once. Seven prisoners on the bus, all interviewed independently, said Mr. Eli’s troubles started when he got into an altercation with another prisoner on board. As punishment, the guards, who were employees of P.T.S. and its subsidiaries, U.S. Prisoner Transport and U.S. Corrections, cuffed his wrists behind his back.  Then, as he began to complain of chest pain and repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” they put him in a segregation cage, prisoners said. …

Related:

State sheds little light on troubled prison transport firm
Source: Chastity Pratt Dawsey, MLive.com, November 29, 2016

The security guard was a big guy of about 270 pounds, and 5-foot-10. The three other guards on the prison bus called him Abram. Over the course of a two-day bus ride through four states last fall, Abram wielded his authority over handcuffed and shackled prisoners, one prisoner recounted, sexually groping men. … The alleged abuse is outlined in a federal lawsuit Wilson filed in October against Prisoner Transportation Services of America, LLC, a private, for-profit company hired by the Michigan Department of Corrections to transport prisoners across states. Based in Nashville, Tenn., PTS is one of the largest private prisoner transportation companies in the nation and has been the subject of lawsuits, public scrutiny and allegations of mistreatment of prisoners. At least four people have died nationally in PTS vehicles since 2012, according to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit, Pulitzer-Prize-winning news organization focusing on criminal justice, which this year investigated for-profit extradition companies in collaboration with the New York Times. Prisoners in Michigan and elsewhere have sued for injuries suffered during their transport, while others have escaped while in the custody of these companies, in some instances causing harm to the public. … In Michigan, contracts with private transport companies contain rules that address security measures, such as minimum officer training requirements, and requiring transported prisoners to be handcuffed, wear seat belts and be given food and medicine on a regular basis. However, the state continues to leave other measures to the discretion of individual vendors, such as the decision to require cameras or to schedule regular bathroom breaks for the fugitives or suspects they carry. And because companies are paid per prisoner per mile, they can make more money by packing inmates tightly into vehicles and stopping infrequently, putting speed of delivery ahead of safety and security concerns. In Michigan, it remains unclear what steps, if any, the state takes to ensure private transport companies follow safety and security rules.

Merger Put on Hold for Prisoner Transportation Company Facing Federal Scrutiny
Source: Eli Hager and Alysia Santo, The Marshall Project, August 9, 2016

A proposed merger between the nation’s largest private extradition company, Prisoner Transportation Services, and its closest competitor was put on hold Tuesday after an advocacy organization filed an objection with the federal agency tasked with approving the deal.The Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit prisoner advocacy group, submitted its comment to the federal Surface Transportation Board on Monday, the deadline for public input before the merger became official. Citing a recent Marshall Project investigation into a pattern of deaths, escapes, crashes and abuse in the for-profit extradition industry, the filing argued that the merger would not be in the public interest because the companies have a history of poor treatment of prisoners. The objection also argued the merger would narrow the industry’s competitive field. … In an emailed statement, Nashville-based PTS defended the merger with its rival, U.S. Corrections. “This proposed transaction does serve the public’s interest,” the company said. “While we look forward to reviewing the complaint in detail, make no mistake, we are committed to doing things right and working to raise the standards of service across the entire industry.” …


Editorial: When prison privatization costs lives, time to reverse course
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 10, 2016

Inside the opaque world of outsourced, privately run prisons around the country, there’s an even less-understood, minimally regulated sub-industry that specializes in transporting extradited prisoners across state lines. It is a deadly serious business that operates in a legal gray area and appears to be accountable to no one when prisoners are maimed, medically neglected or killed during transport. These companies typically operate vans that are packed with prisoners and travel long, circuitous routes to deliver them to jails and prisons covering 26 states. Missouri and Illinois are among the states that are smart enough, so far, not to contract with these companies. They must keep it that way. … The drive to privatize doesn’t always bring greater efficiency. It certainly doesn’t produce more accountability or transparency for taxpayers. This is one case where the public’s interest is better served by keeping prisoner transport services entirely under government management.

Inside the Deadly World of Private Prisoner Transport
Source: Eli Hager and Alysia Santo, The Marshall Project, July 6, 2016

Every year, tens of thousands of fugitives and suspects — many of whom have not been convicted of a crime — are entrusted to a handful of small private companies that specialize in state and local extraditions.A Marshall Project review of thousands of court documents, federal records and local news articles and interviews with more than 50 current or former guards and executives reveals a pattern of prisoner abuse and neglect in an industry that operates with almost no oversight.Since 2012, at least four people, including Galack, have died on private extradition vans, all of them run by the Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services. In one case, a Mississippi man complained of pain for a day and a half before dying from an ulcer. In another, a Kentucky woman suffered a fatal withdrawal from anti-anxiety medication. And in another, guards mocked a prisoner’s pain before he, too, died from a perforated ulcer. … Training for guards, many of whom are military veterans, is often limited to a tutorial on handcuffs and pepper spray and a review of policies and paperwork, leaving them unprepared for the hazards of driving a van full of prisoners. At least 60 prisoners have escaped from private extradition vehicles since 2000 …

… At a time when a swollen United States prison and jail population has strained law enforcement budgets, transport companies offer a significantly cheaper alternative to traditional extradition, in which local deputies are sent miles out of state for one person. … Private vans can save considerably by picking up and dropping off other prisoners along the way, charging 75 cents to $1.50 a mile per prisoner.Corrections departments in 26 states, law enforcement in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and Las Vegas, and local agencies nationwide use extradition companies. Although about two dozen private prisoner transport companies have registered with the Department of Transportation, only seven have state-level extradition contracts, with PTS having the most by far. …

… Extradition companies are not required to report escapes to federal regulators, and there is no centralized tracking. But a review of dozens of local news accounts shows that since Jeanna’s Act was passed, at least 56 prisoners were reported to have escaped from for-profit extradition vehicles. At least 16 were reported to have committed new crimes while on the run. By comparison, the prison systems of California, Florida and Texas — which together transport more than 800,000 inmates every year, most of them in-state — have each had just one prisoner escape from transport vehicles over the same period. …

How to Investigate Private Prisoner Transport in Your State
Source: Eli Hager and Alysia Santo, The Marshall Project, July 6, 2016

Today, in collaboration with The New York Times, we published an investigation into the little-known world of for-profit prisoner transport. Through our reporting, we found a pattern of death and injury in an industry that operates with almost no government oversight. … Over eight months, we surveyed the departments of correction in all 50 states, and we found that 26 of them use private companies to transport parolees, fugitives, and other prisoners. But many city and county governments, big and small, also use these companies. That means there’s still a lot of reporting that could be done to localize this story.That’s where you come in. If you want to know whether government agencies in your area use for-profit prisoner transport companies — and how often — we’ve prepared a guide to reporting on this industry. You will also need to dig for the stories of individuals who have been transported to and from (and through) your town on these vans.If you publish a story about your state or city’s use of private extradition companies, email a link to . We’ll link back to your article in a collection on this page.