In 2015, over 2.2 million people are imprisoned in U.S. prisons or jails. These prisoners are routinely transported to court appearances, outside medical appointments, and between jurisdictions. Interstate warrants require transporting prisoners across state lines. Prisoner transportation is a highly specialized industry, requiring the security of a prison in a mobile, vehicular setting. This makes prisoner transportation one of the biggest expenses in prison management, promoting a multi-million dollar private transportation service industry and creates incentives for alternatives to transportation (such as remote medicine).
Some prison and jail systems have contracted with private companies to provide prisoner transportation services, resulting in a rapid growth for this sector. “Extradition” companies provide guards, vehicles, and prisoner restraints that would otherwise be diverted from regular duties at the facilities. Companies contract services based on number of prisoners transported and miles covered. For example, TransCor America LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CoreCivic, Inc., has transported more than 1.3 million people since 1990, served over 2000 agencies, and averages 2.5 million miles traveled every year. Its revenue for 2014 was $11.6 million. G4S Secure Solutions (USA) Inc., another of the largest prisoner transportation companies, employed over 57,000 people in 2014.
Some jurisdictions have resisted privatization of prisoner transportation. For years, the Federal government operated separate air fleets for immigration and federal prisoner transport. In 1995, these fleets were merged to create the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS). JPATS is the largest prisoner transport organization in the world, handling around 800 requests every day to move prisoners, and completing over 280,000 prisoner/immigration movements per year. The State of Ohio created a centralized prisoner transportation system operating between its 32 prisons to move an annual total of 19,824 prisoners, resulting in an overall savings of 29%. The State of Michigan has instituted a similar centralized system. In the Midwest, 20 states have formed the Northwest Shuttle Service, handling in-state warrants and out-of-state fugitive returns through relays between Sheriff’s offices and police departments in participating states.
Some states and local jurisdictions have rejected transporting their prisoners via private companies because of reports of human rights violations during transportation. Prisoners are transported via circuitous routes spending hours in handcuffs and leg shackles. Bathroom stops and meals enroute are left to the whims of the drivers. Overnight lodging is in local jails with no changes of clothing. Prisoners’ personal safety is also at risk. In 1997, six prisoners were burned alive in a van operated by the Memphis-based Federal Extradition Agency. Accidents, escapes and other abuses are rampant and have resulted in numerous lawsuits against private prisoner transportation companies.
Women prisoners are especially vulnerable during transport; women prisoners are in the direct custody and control of their abusers and have very limited access to lawyers to initiate lawsuits. Kidnapping and rape of women prisoners have been reported in a variety of instances but most cases of rape and sexual abuse of women prisoners go unreported because of threats and fear of retaliation. Just one example prompted a lawsuit by the ACLU in 2002: During a 4-day van trip with two male officers and other, mostly male, prisoners, an Extraditions International guard sexually harassed and threatened to kill two women prisoners.
In 2000, Congress enacted the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act. The law establishes federal standards including staff certification and training, meal and restroom breaks, proper heating, ventilation and safety of vehicles, first aid kits, and female staff supervision of women prisoners. Unfortunately, not all prisoner transportation companies are in compliance with this law. Most prisoner transport is contracted by small, local or regional companies who use vans and other passenger vehicles and are thus exempt from most federal regulations regarding operation of commercial over-the-road vehicles. Private prisoner transportation services using vans or cars are not required to have commercial driver’s licenses, to provide regular vehicle maintenance, or to observe federal regulations restricting the number of hours that drivers can travel between rest stops.
Companies providing prisoner transportation services include large numbers of regional and locally-owned companies which provide medical transport, and transfer prisoners between jails and prisons in-state. Some of the largest companies are associated with private prison corporations: TransCor America (associated with CoreCivic, Inc.), GEO Transport (associated with GEO Group), and Emerald Correctional Management (associated with Emerald Companies). In-Custody Transportation, Inc., BlackTalon Enterprises, Inc. and PTS of America are also among the largest of these companies.