Prisoner Transport Services of America
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Prisoner Transportation Services of America
Mar 17, 2017 wkyc.com
Inmate escapes at Cleveland Hopkins Airport car rental facility
CLEVELAND - An inmate escaped at a rental car facility at Cleveland Hopkins Airport after reportedly being left unattended late Wednesday. According to police reports, Wesley Massey, 36, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, reportedly escaped while traveling with a man who works with a private prison transportation company. Massey was wanted on at least one bench warrant after Conneaut Lake Regional Police in Pennsylvania reported he fled before sentencing after facing several theft and fraud charges. Police said Massey was accused of making more than $40,000 in purchases on a company credit card. Authorities said he was being transported from Florida to Cleveland, and was then to be transported by vehicle to his final destination. The man working with the prison transportation company reported he was at an Enterprise counter inside the car rental facility at the airport when Massey asked to use the restroom. The man said he left Massey unattended for a couple of minutes to return to the counter. When he went to check on Massey, he wasn’t in the restroom. Reports stated Massey left the facility and immediately went to the employee parking lot adjacent to the rental car facility, and stole a grey 2013 Volkswagen Passat. Hertz managers at the car rental facility tell WKYC Channel 3 News that the stolen vehicle belonged to an employee who reportedly left the vehicle running before preparing to leave for the night. The man transporting the inmate told officials that Massey was handcuffed with shackles attached to his waist. Massey fled in the car, but was later stopped by Pennsylvania police. Police said he ignored verbal commands from officers and fled once again. Officers reported Massey was speeding on I-90 in Pennsylvania, hitting about 100 mph. Massey was eventually stopped by spike strips in Girard County. He is now facing additional charges including fleeing and eluding police and receiving stolen property. He was booked into Erie County Prison.

Dec 11, 2016 detroitnews.com
Michigan: Troubling private inmate transport allegations
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. “He rubbed up against me, touched me on my buttocks,” Woodrow Wilson, 58, of Detroit told Bridge Magazine. “I was handcuffed. I felt violated.” 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, Tennessee, 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 that focuses 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. A month after the Marshall Project investigation and several months after Wilson said he was abused, PTS said it had improved safety measures, including adding cameras and satellite tracking systems to its vehicles. The company did not respond to questions about its record from Bridge. 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 leaves other measures to the discretion of vendors, such as the decision to require cameras or to schedule regular bathroom breaks for the fugitives or suspects they carry. 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. That’s because the Michigan Department of Corrections would not reveal if it inspects private transport vehicles, or discuss its enforcement protocols, saying its security measures are “exempt from public disclosure” under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, according to state prison spokesman Chris Gautz. Critics of the private prisoner transportation industry say PTS and companies like it interact with thousands of prisoners with little oversight, making it too easy for profit-minded companies to cut corners on prisoner safety and public security. The federal law regulating these companies has been used to fine a private business only once since it was enacted in 2000 despite deaths and dozens of escapes, said Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a prisoner advocacy group based in Florida. “There are more regulations for transporting cattle than for transporting prisoners,” Friedmann said. “And very rarely are those regulations enforced, even on a federal level.” Earlier this year, PTS announced plans to merge with a rival, a company Michigan had previously fired. Federal approval was delayed in August after Friedmann’s group objected to the merger, citing PTS’ history of safety, sanitation and security problems. Critics argue states like Michigan that outsource prison transportation should be more vigilant and transparent about the care these companies take to protect their passengers — many of whom have not been convicted — as well as the security of the guards and the general public. Prisoners complain of being packed into speeding vehicles for days with no seat belts, too little food or water and lax medical care, with passengers sometimes left to urinate or defecate on themselves. Friedmann’s research cites two notorious incidents. In 1997, six prisoners were burned alive in a private company van near Dickson, Tennessee, after parts on the 1995 Ford E150 broke away and the van caught fire. The vehicle had logged more than 240,000 miles in two years. The company, Federal Extradition Agency, shut down in 1998 and Friedmann reported the case was settled for about $24 million. In another case, 39 Wisconsin prisoners filed a federal suit in 2000 against the nation’s largest prison transport company, TransCor America, claiming that during a 30-hour bus ride to Oklahoma prisoners were “splashed with waste from the overflowing toilet” and arrived with frostbite and hypothermia from exposure to the cold. Wilson is one of at least three Michigan prisoners who have sued PTS. A second prisoner, who did not have a lawyer, withdrew his case. A third, Jim Henry Redd of Detroit, sued PTS in 2011, alleging he was injured in North Carolina when a PTS van crashed into another vehicle en route from Michigan to Georgia. Redd claims in the suit he was not in a seat belt when the driver made a sudden, improper lane change, causing Redd to be thrown to the back of the van, injuring his neck and back. A default judgment was entered against PTS after the company did not respond to the allegations. The cuffs on his hands and the leg irons on his ankles were proof to Wilson that the full weight of the law had fallen on him as the PTS bus moved him through the Midwest last year. Wilson was being returned to Michigan from a jail in Lima, Ohio, in 2011 on a parole violation after his conviction for car theft. He recalls about 10 prisoners in the van. The first leg of the trip was relatively short — a three- to four-hour ride to an overnight layover at a jail in Kentucky. The prisoners were given bottles to urinate in so the van could avoid stopping during the journey, Wilson told Bridge. At the Kentucky jail, the PTS security guard known as Abram set his sights on one prisoner, Wilson said. “What you looking at?” Abram asked the prisoner, to which the man responded, “I ain’t looking at you.” Wilson said a few words were exchanged, Abram was angered and soon Tasered the man, crumpling him to the ground. The following morning, there was more trouble as the prisoners were loaded back on the vehicle. According to Wilson, Abram was telling a younger prisoner that if they had met in prison, the guard would have “made him his bitch.” Wilson said he had had enough. “I said, ‘Why don’t you leave him alone?’ ” Abram responded that he’d had his eye on Wilson. And so it began. Over the course of two days as the bus picked up and unloaded prisoners, Wilson said Abram touched his thigh and buttocks. He also gave Wilson Pop Tarts and extra sandwiches. “I think he was trying to hook up with me,” Wilson said. At one point, he said, Abram sat down on Wilson’s lap. “I tried to push him off, and he put his arm around my neck.” The poor conditions didn’t stop at sexual abuse, Wilson said. There were no seat belts on the van that picked him up in Ohio, nor on the bus that he boarded in Kentucky. And the stench from an on-board lavatory was nauseating to the point that the guards made a stop to buy a liquid solution to tamp down the smell. The waste was never emptied over two days. Through it all, Wilson, who records show suffers from depression, said he was denied some doses of his twice-daily prescription during the trip. “They would say, ‘We’ll get to you,’ or ‘We’re busy right now.’ Wilson’s account echoes complaints from across the nation in the investigation by the Marshall Project and the New York Times. Reporters reviewed thousands of court documents, interviewed more than 50 current and former guards to expose rampant abuse that flourishes due to “almost no oversight” in the industry nationwide. Wilson’s fiancee filed a grievance on his behalf in August with the state prison system under the Prison Rape Elimination Act and is awaiting a response. Saying he could not afford to hire an attorney, Wilson filed his federal lawsuit against PTS in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in October. He was released on parole Oct. 18. The company has yet to file a legal response, court records show. The Michigan Department of Corrections contracted with PTS in 2008 for $3.7 million to provide extradition services through 2015. Most prisoners or suspects are wanted for failure to pay child support or parole violations. Others are federal inmates sent to Michigan to serve out sentences on state charges. After re-bidding the contract, MDOC briefly contracted with another private vendor, U.S. Corrections, in March of this year. However, that company was fired after less than two months when the state found out the firm was not veteran-owned as it had claimed, according to Gautz. (The state gives contract preferences to veteran-owned businesses.) But that was not the only problem cited by the state. A letter from Michigan prison officials in April, made public by the Marshall Project, shows MDOC also had concerns about late prisoner pick-up and drop-offs. MDOC acted to terminate the contract after U.S. Corrections notified state prison officials that two prisoners had escaped its custody in Florida. After ending that contract in April, MDOC re-upped with PTS, signing a three-year, $655,500 contract. Under the deal, the company receives about $300 per prisoner and 85 cents per mile. Gautz said the state has outsourced prisoner transportation since at least 1994, a practice that he said saves taxpayers money. “Given that these transport runs happen infrequently and often require travel across the country, it makes much more sense to have someone do this service for us rather than pay to have several state employees go on a week-long bus trip to pick up one prisoner,” he said. “This is a much more cost effective way of doing business, and just makes sense.” In fiscal year 2016, the state spent just over $170,000 on prisoner transport costs, which he said is low compared with the $200,000 to $400,000 spent in a typical year. On a federal level, the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act of 2000, commonly known as Jeanna’s Law, requires companies to notify police when a prisoner escapes custody. It also establishes minimum security and training standards for guards — such as a 1-to-6 guard-to-prisoner ratio — along with minimum standards for safety of prisoners, with a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation. The law is named for Jeanna North, an 11-year-old who was killed in 1993 by her neighbor, Kyle Bell. He was convicted of her murder in 1999 but escaped from a private prisoner transport bus in New Mexico. Bell was found three months later in Texas after a nationwide manhunt that included the television show, “America’s Most Wanted.” But despite the regulations, there is no evidence the private companies are held accountable. Asked how MDOC enforces state regulations or how often vehicles are inspected, that state responded that such information is exempt from public disclosure. “Per the contract with PTS the company is required to follow MDOC’s policies, but due to security concerns, those policies are exempt, so I can’t get into the standards and how they are enforced and the inspections,” Gautz wrote Bridge in an email.  PTS’ application to merge with U.S. Corrections, one of its competitors, was delayed after the Human Rights Defense Center filed an objection to the merger. The merger is under consideration by the Surface Transportation Board, a federal regulatory agency. Friedmann of HRDC takes a hard line when it comes to states hiring private companies to take on public services such as operating prisons and transporting prisoners. Whatever states save in upfront financial costs must be balanced against the widespread allegations of rights abuses and the legal consequences that sometimes follow. “If someone is hyperventilating and (the company) won’t stop at a hospital because they want to complete the trip … their goal is not to provide a secure public service, it’s to make money,” Friedmann said. “It’s like UPS and the prisoner is the package. We want the goal to ensure public safety.” Friedmann said there are some simple changes states can make to improve safety: Interview prisoners before and after transport to get information about transportation conditions; require video cameras on vehicles, require GPS on vehicles and enforce regulations such as Jeanna’s Law and state policies requiring seat belts and giving prisoners medication in a timely manner. Wilson said that after PTS dropped him off at the state prison in Jackson, he reported the sexual assault incident. Without that complaint, he said, no one would have known about the security guard’s actions. He agrees prisoners should be interviewed or given a questionnaire about their transportation to help ensure accountability. “The standards in place right now,” he said, “obviously are not sufficient.” The Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit prisoner rights advocacy group, the federal government and states make the following changes when dealing with private vendors:
Require companies to take out higher minimum insurance amounts.
Restrict the use of certain vehicles. For instance, banning 15-passenger vans which are linked to more accidents.
Establish specific rules governing maintenance and inspection of prisoner transport vehicles.
Mandate seat-belt or other safety restraint requirements.
Increase civil penalties for regulatory violations that take into consideration a company’s size or annual revenue.
Pass a federal law requiring that all escapes, accidents and other incidents that endanger public safety during extraditions be reported to a central government agency, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and made available to the public.
Require government contracts with private companies to incentivize physical safety and security, with financial penalties for violations.

Dec 11, 2016 themarshallproject.org
Federal Official Urges Probe of ‘Abuse’ on Private Prisoner Transport
A federal transportation regulator has urged the Justice Department to investigate accusations of “human rights violations” on privately run vans that carry tens of thousands of prisoners across long distances every year. Deb Miller, vice chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, made her comments last month, echoing calls from lawmakers this summer for a probe of Prisoner Transportation Services, the nation’s largest private extradition company, and others in the field. The company was highlighted in a Marshall Project investigation that revealed a pattern of deaths and abuse in the industry. “The problems of prisoner abuse, sexual assault, and medical neglect by Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC… are very concerning,” Miller wrote in a comment appended to the board’s Nov. 10 decision to grant approval for PTS to merge with its largest competitor, U.S. Corrections. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee in July — shortly after The Marshall Project story was published — that her office would review apparent lapses in federal oversight of prisoner transport companies. A spokesman for the Justice Department said recently the agency is still working on a report. The merger between PTS and U.S. Corrections had been put on hold on Aug. 9 after the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit prisoner advocacy group, filed an objection to the deal, arguing that both companies have a history of prisoner abuse. Those concerns, however, were deemed to be outside of the Surface Transportation Board’s purview, which is focused narrowly on the economic impact of a merger. For-profit extradition companies transport suspects, fugitives, and others with open arrest warrants across state lines to where they are wanted. Many of these prisoners are first held in a local jail, sometimes for weeks, before they are picked up for the transport. The companies are governed by a 2000 federal law commonly known as Jeanna’s Act, which sets out some broad standards for treatment of prisoners. But the legislation has only been enforced one time in the 16 years since, despite at least 60 prisoner escapes, 50 crashes, 14 alleged instances of sexual assault, and 16 deaths on these vans during that time, The Marshall Project investigation found. The story prompted some changes at PTS, which is based in Tennessee and has contracts with state corrections departments and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies. At least four prisoners have died aboard PTS vans from alleged abuse or medical neglect since 2012. PTS officials declined to comment on those deaths. In a recent interview at the company headquarters, Alan Sielbeck, the chief owner of PTS, and its new president, Joel Brasfield, said six of their 29 vans have been outfitted with cameras, although the software for recording and saving footage has not yet been installed. They said they hoped it would be available soon and the entire fleet would have cameras within 12 months. When asked how the video will be used, the officials said it would be too costly to record and preserve all of it for more than a few weeks. Simply having the devices in the fleet would influence guards and inmates to behave better, they said. In addition, PTS officials said they have increased their staffing to 80 guards from about 35 so each of them can have more time off. Instead of getting only 12 hours to rest in between every 36 hours of driving, they will now have 24-hour breaks every two days — although that schedule depends on finding a jail along the way that is willing to take the inmates overnight. To prevent further deadly emergencies during transit, Sielbeck and Brasfield said they have prioritized the position of “medical verification” officer to obtain advance information from jails about medical problems of inmates picked up by PTS. If an inmate has a severe diagnosis, he or she can be escorted on a commercial flight instead of a days-long trip in one of the vans. PTS said it does not yet have enough data to determine whether air transports have become more common. “We’re kind of a slave to that holding agency,” Brasfield said. He said jails can withhold medical information either intentionally or unintentionally. Meanwhile, classroom training for guards has been upped to two weeks from three days, including lessons on what to do if an inmate is in distress. Seatbelts have also been installed in six of the vans, although Brasfield acknowledged they may be removed because “the industry has gone back and forth” about whether the straps and buckles can be used as weapons or to pick locks. Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, who questioned Lynch about the federal government’s role in monitoring prisoner transportation companies, called PTS’s efforts encouraging but said he plans to continue advocating for oversight of the industry. “We need to stay on this and make sure things are carried out effectively,” Deutch said. “We’re going to share this information with Justice and hope that it spurs action,” he added, noting that the department’s upcoming report will allow him to “determine whether additional legislative action is necessary.” Despite emphasizing the improvements, PTS officials defended their business model. Sielbeck, who described himself as “a self-avowed capitalist,” said there’s no clear alternative to for-profit prisoner transport. “The government can do it different but very seldom does the government do it better,” he said, referring to the U.S. Marshals and local sheriffs. Asked about claims of abuse and neglect that have been made by inmates, Sielbeck said, “The transported community can take stories and embellish them.” Sielbeck and Brasfield also pointed out that PTS is more compliant with federal regulations than some of its mom-and-pop competitors, which use minivans not covered by the same passenger carrier rules. They suggested they might even advocate more scrutiny of the industry and demand that states put more safety requirements in their contracts with these companies. But when pressed on whether PTS would actually demand such higher standards, the officials said they do not have a large budget for lobbying and would only share their ideas about how to better regulate the industry if contacted by the government. They added that they believed chances of that happening under the incoming Trump administration are slim.

Aug 10, 2016 themarshallproject.org

Merger Put on Hold for Prisoner Transportation Company Facing Federal Scrutiny
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. “While the merger may result in economies of scale for the combined company, and result in efficiencies related to the combined company’s business model, that simply reflects benefits to the company, not necessarily to the public,” wrote Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center. PTS, which transports suspects and fugitives who are arrested back to the jurisdictions where they are wanted, has until Aug. 23 to respond. The board’s final decision must be made by August 2017, although it could happen much sooner.At least four prisoners have died on PTS vans since 2012. Another two dozen people have been killed or seriously injured in crashes since 2000 aboard private extradition vans, which are operated by about a half dozen small private companies. Twenty-six states and countless local law enforcement agencies have contracts with private extradition companies.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.”Last month, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told lawmakers that her office would investigate apparent lapses in federal oversight of the prisoner transport industry. Last week, PTS said it was making improvements such as installing cameras and a real-time tracking system on its fleet, hiring a compliance officer and hiring an independent auditor to review its practices and the industry at large. In its objection, the Human Rights Defense Center also cited recent Marshall Project reporting about apparent ties between U.S. Corrections and a now-defunct extradition company, USG7, which has failed to pay at least $200,000 in legal judgments to former employees and inmates injured in crashes, according to court records and attorneys. Steven Kalishman, who represented one inmate injured when a USG7 van hit a tree, said he also filed a comment opposing the merger. The company never responded to his client’s lawsuit and has not paid the default judgement it owes in the case, he said.“Before the merger is allowed to take place, they should be held accountable for the judgments against USG7,” Kalishman wrote. It was unclear whether the board would consider his objection because it was missing a required document.U.S. Corrections has denied any ties to USG7, and the company did not respond to further requests for comment on Tuesday. PTS also did not respond to questions about ties between USG7 and U.S. Corrections. In their application for the merger, the two companies named large, national companies such as TransCor America and GEO Transport as their direct competitors, arguing that the merger “would not affect the competitiveness of the industry, which is sizable and robust.” TransCor and GEO transport prisoners between private prison facilities operated by their parent companies, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, but are not currently involved in the interstate extradition business. On its website, PTS describes itself as “one of the very few nationwide prisoner transport operators in the United States.”

Jul 12, 2016 news4jax.com
Suit: Guards mocked former professor before death in jail van
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An Amelia Island man is suing two companies after his son, a former college professor, died while be transported across the country in a private prison van. According to the lawsuit, he had been sick and lost 46 pounds in 10 days, but his pleas for help were ignored -- even mocked. An autopsy found 47-year-old William Weintraub, PhD, died of a perforated ulcer. In April 2014, Robert Weintraub got a call from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, saying his son had died in custody as a private inmate transportation company drove him from Colorado to South Carolina. GBI agent: "I have some bad news for you." Robert Weintraub: "Is this about William? Is he alive?" Agent: "No sir. I'm sorry." Father: "They didn't have the proper medications. They didn't take care of him. He was locked up, moving around from place to place. I knew that was going to happen. Nobody would believe me."  William Weintraub taught physics at a couple universities, most recently at Coastal Carolina University, but ran into trouble in 2014 when he was arrested, accused of making threats to a South Carolina newspaper, which published an article about him. Police in Boulder Colorado arrested him and hired Prisoner Transportation Services of America to drive him back to the East Coast. "Immediately they cut off all his medications," attorney Curry Pajcic said. "His problems were obvious. He was passing out on the bathroom floor; he was witnessed vomiting blood." Pajcic is suing Prisoner Transport Services of America and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, the business that screened William Weintraub as he was housed at a correctional facility during the trip. Pajcic said neither company did anything to help an obviously ailing prisoner. "He is described as looking like the Walking Dead. They tell him, 'You get in the van, it's time to go.' He can't even step up in the van. They pick them up, shackled hand and foot, pick him up and throw him on top of the other prisoners in the van," Pajcic said. As staff picked up other inmates across the country,  William Weintraub got sicker. "During the transport, when he leans over, he stops breathing, he urinates on himself. Other detainees start slamming on the door. 'We need help! We need help!' Pajcic said. When employees finally did stop the van at a North Georgia jail, William Weintraub had been dead so long, his body was stiff. Other inmates were chained by his side. Pajcic described it as a slow, painful and torturous death all at the hands of people hired to transport prisoners safely. "If they had just gotten him to a doctor an hour before, he would still be alive," Pajcic said. News4Jax has asked managers at both companies for comment. Neither has responded. Last week, the New York Times published an article on Prisoner Transport Services of America after learning that four inmates have died in while in its custody since 2012, and there are dozens of claims of mistreatment and brutality while being transported.