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Annapolis, Maryland
February 5, 2009 AP
A private prison transportation company lost an attempted-murder suspect somewhere between Florida and Pennsylvania, leading to a search for the cuffed and shackled inmate and drawing complaints that such companies are poorly regulated. The discovery today was at least the second escape in six months involving an inmate being moved by Prisoner Transportation Services of America LLC. Still, industry critics said the major issue is not escapes, but mistreatment of inmates and poor traveling conditions. Authorities searched for the suspect who escaped late Wednesday or early Thursday while en route from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sylvester Mitchell, 33, was being extradited to face attempted murder charges in Philadelphia, where he once lived. He was gone when the van arrived at 3 a.m. today at a police station. Authorities said it was unclear how or where Mitchell escaped. Other inmates and guards said they don't remember seeing him after the van's previous stop in Annapolis, Md. Prisoner Transportation Services, based in Nashville, Tenn., says it is the largest U.S. firm of its type, moving more than 100,000 inmates nationwide each year. The company states on its Web site that its agents are highly trained and "most have military and/or criminal justice backgrounds." A spokesman for Prisoner Transportation Services, who declined to identify himself before hanging up, said today that the company had no comment. A shackled inmate escaped in September at Philadelphia International Airport while in the custody of a Prisoner Transportation Services guard and was captured a week later in Elkton, Md. Taariq Ali, 43, formerly of Wilmington, Del., was serving a life sentence for attempted murder and a weapons charge. He was transferred in 1995 to California and was being returned to Delaware when he escaped Sept. 12. The Delaware Department of Corrections said at the time that Prisoner Transportation Services did not notify state officials until two days later. The state uses private contractors because it is not authorized to move prisoners across state lines. Corrections spokesman John Painter said today that the department is "no longer involved with Prisoner Transportation Services" but declined to say whether it was using a new contractor or had transferred any prisoners since the September escape. Though prisoner mistreatment appears to be more commonplace than escapes in transit, the lack of oversight and regulation of the industry makes it difficult to determine how widespread problems are, said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington. Because they are privately owned, prison transportation companies are not required to release data on escapes, accidents and numbers of inmates they transfer. It's also unclear exactly how many such companies exist, because many are "thinly staffed, fly-by-night operations" that quickly close up shop when they're sued, Winter said. "One thing that's clear is that the goal with all these companies is to pick up as many bodies along the way as they can to squeeze out the most profits," she said. "We've had many reports of prisoners being taken on weeks-long odysseys and not getting food, water or medical attention." A phone message left for a spokesman of the Association of Private Correctional and Treatment Organizations, an industry group, was not immediately returned.

February 5, 2009 CBS3
Sylvester Mitchell, 33, escaped while being transported from Philadelphia to Florida on February 5. Police are searching for a prisoner who went missing while being transported from Florida to Philadelphia. Authorities said 33-year-old Sylvester Mitchell found missing from a private prison transportation company van when it arrived at 21st and Hamilton Streets at about 3 a.m. Thursday. Mitchell, who was wanted on attempted murder charges, was last seen by guards and fellow inmates during a stop in Annapolis, Maryland. He was last wearing a bright orange vest and slacks. A multi-state search is currently underway for the inmate. If you have any information, please contact Philadelphia Police.

Delaware Department of Corrections
September 17, 2008 AP
A shackled inmate serving a life term for attempted murder escaped from a private security guard while getting off a commercial flight at Philadelphia International Airport, police and corrections officials said. Delaware Department of Corrections officials said they were notified Sunday about Friday night's escape of Taariq Ali, 43, and the department has suspended all interstate transport of prisoners until it determines how the escape occurred. Philadelphia airport police said Ali was still at large Tuesday. Following the escape, Delaware's corrections commissioner, Carl Danberg, also activated an emergency response team to aid in search for Ali. Thor Catalogne, a spokesman for Prisoner Transportation Services of America, the Nashville, Tenn., company that was transporting Ali, referred all questions to Delaware corrections officials. Ali was able to escape despite being handcuffed to a waist chain and was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and khaki pants, the Department of Corrections said. Ali was convicted of attempted murder in Delaware in 1995 and was sent to California under a prisoner exchange agreement. He was being transported back to Delaware when he escaped, the department said. Corrections spokesman John Painter said transfers have been stopped "because there's entirely too many unanswered questions about how this happened." Painter said the delay in reporting the escape was among the department's concerns. The corrections spokesman said there have only been 10 such transfers since 2004, all of which have gone without incident except for Friday's escape. The transfers are usually made because of "real or perceived security threats." Painter said he was not aware of any other problems with the company, adding the department uses outside contractors because it is not authorized to move prisoners across state lines. The company was also involved in a January 2007 escape in which an inmate later stole a tractor-trailer in an attempt to see his dying mother.

Hamilton County Jail, Hamilton County, Ohio
November 21, 2011 Local 12
The search is over for a prisoner who escaped from a private jail van during a transfer. Cincinnati Police captured Jose Ramon Fernandez at noon today in Mount Auburn. There were actually two men who escaped Sunday night around 11:30 p.m. They were being transferred in a private prison vehicle carrying prisoners from around the country. Court documents indicate the men kicked out the side door of the vehicle at Reading and Sycamore Streets -- right by the jail. They had slipped out of their handcuffs. One of the prisoners, 36 year old Walter Rode of Dalton, Georgia, was caught about a block away but overpowered the security person and continued to run. He was then tracked by a police canine unit at 12th and Sycamore Streets-and rearrested. He's now facing an escape charge.

November 21, 2011 Local 12
The search continues this morning for a prisoner who escaped from a private jail van during a transfer. There were actually two men who escaped Sunday night around 11:30 p.m. They were being transferred in a private prison vehicle carrying prisoners from around the country. Court documents indicate the men kicked out the side door of the vehicle at Reading and Sycamore Streets -- right by the jail. They had slipped out of their handcuffs. One of the prisoners, 36 year old Walter Rode of Dalton, Georgia, was caught about a block away but overpowered the security person and continued to run. He was then tracked by a police canine unit at 12th and Sycamore Streets-and rearrested. He's now facing an escape charge. Officers say the second man, Jose Ramon Hernandez of Fort Meyers, Florida, is still at-large. Officers have not said what charges the men face originally. Court documents indicate Hernandez was en route to a jail in Florida. Police have not released a photo of Hernandez. Sheriff officials say the private jail van was in Hamilton County to deliver an inmate from Newport, Kentucky on drug charges. That prisoner was taken to the Hamilton County Justice Center without incident.

Florida Department of Corrections
At age 54, Denise Isaacs suffered from a slew of ailments, including bipolar disorder, anxiety and chronic abdominal pain. Yet Isaacs, who was wanted in Southwest Florida on a probation violation for shoplifting, was crammed into a stuffy transport van with 10 other shackled inmates for a nearly 1,000-mile trip from Kentucky to Punta Gorda. “I knew she wouldn’t be be able to make a trip like that because of her weakness and pain,” said her daughter, Kallie Isaacs, of Lexington, Kentucky. But her family never believed that the rigors of the journey might kill her. Isaacs earlier this month was found slumped over dead inside the van — operated by Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services of America through a contract with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office — during a stop at a West Miami-Dade Taco Bell restaurant. Her case offers a window into the little-publicized world of private inmate-transport companies. And it has now spurred a law enforcement investigation into whether the transport officers provided her with proper care and attention during the grueling two-day road trip. According to sources with knowledge of the investigation, Isaacs is believed to have acted strangely throughout the trip — apparently suffering hallucinations — while drinking little water and refusing a meal during a stop in Orlando. And when the two transport officers finally saw that she was unresponsive in the Taco Bell parking lot, they first called their superiors in Tennessee. Only after unsuccessfully trying to revive her did the officers dial 911, sources said. The cause of death remains unknown. An autopsy of Isaacs has so far proved inconclusive while the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office awaits the results of more tests. Company representatives did not return repeated calls from the Miami Herald seeking comment. The company bills itself as the “nation’s largest prisoner extradition company and one of the largest international transporters of detainees.” According to the company, it transports more than 10,000 detainees each year for law enforcement across the country. “We can move your prisoner at less cost than if you did it yourself,” the company’s website boasts. A spokeswoman for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, which contracts Prisoner Transportation Services for extraditing inmates, said she could not comment about the company until her counterparts at the Miami-Dade Police Department finish their investigation. The Charlotte Sheriff’s Office runs the jail in Punta Gorda. Prisoner Transportation Services has not escaped scrutiny in recent years. Last year, two company agents left their transport van unattended in Oklahoma, and the inmates broke through a partition and drove off. The eight prisoners were later recaptured. In 2009, the company lost two inmates in high-profile escapes during a six-month span. One man accused of attempted murder vanished from a transport van somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and Philadelphia. In the other case, Delaware’s prison system cut ties with the company after a shackled inmate en route to the state escaped at an airport. The Miami incident raises questions about whether the company had proper procedures and training — vital concerns often overlooked by governments looking to save money by outsourcing vital public safety functions, said Donald Cohen, the executive director of In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that studies privatization. “They let someone die on their watch, and this should not have happened,” Cohen said. As for Isaacs, she had lived in Punta Gorda with her father for several years. In August 2012, she was arrested on a grand theft charge after police said she stole $1,200 worth of merchandise from a Port Charlotte Wal-Mart. She pleaded no contest and was given 18 months of probation plus a “withhold of adjudication,” which means no conviction appeared on her record. According to her daughter, Isaacs had recently returned to her native Kentucky, still under corrections supervision. “She was my best friend. We lived together. She would just make me laugh all day. She had the biggest heart ever,” Kallie Isaacs said. “We had plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She wasn’t done living yet.” Then in August, the Florida Department of Corrections found that Isaacs had violated her probation. The reason: She had failed to complete 200 hours of community service and owed $607.98 in court fines. Authorities in Kentucky arrested Isaacs and booked her into Fayette County Detention Center in Lexington. Even before her jailing and throughout her time behind bars, Isaacs had been suffering hallucinations, complaining that she had not been given her psychiatric medications, her daughter said. Nonetheless, a Prisoner Transportation Services Chevrolet passenger van picked her up in Kentucky on Sept. 14, then headed south, collecting other inmates at detention centers in several states. On the evening of Sept. 16, the van stopped at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in West Miami-Dade to pick up another inmate. In all, eight male and three female inmates were in the van, separated from the driver and accompanying company agent by a partition. Just before 10 p.m., company transport officers Kirk Westbrooks, 41, and Kenneth Adams, 41, stopped at the Taco Bell in the 3700 block of Northwest 79th Avenue in Doral. That’s when Isaacs was discovered unconscious. Her daughter said that a company representative, in a phone call afterward, insisted that Isaacs had been medically cleared for the trip. “They shouldn’t have let her make the trip in that condition, knowing she was not eating, knowing she was hallucinating,” Kallie Isaacs said, tearfully. “They should have left her here and given her medical attention.”

La Crosse, Wisconsin
June 12, 2006 La Crosse Tribune
Four days after he escaped from a prisoner transport van, 19-year-old Phillip Dunn of West Salem, Wis., was arrested late Saturday night in the basement of a home on Farnam Street, La Crosse police said Sunday. Dunn was hiding behind a washing machine when Lt. Jim Ballas and another officer arrested him at about 10 p.m., Ballas said in an interview. “He gave us no resistance,” Ballas said. “We’d been getting leads every day” since the escape, Ballas said. “He had a tent and was moving around the South Side,” apparently camping out in different locations. Police spotted the tent in a yard Saturday, and later learned Dunn was inside the nearby home of a man who didn’t know who Dunn was. Ballas thanked the public for the tips police received, and the news media for keeping the search for Dunn in the news. “Our officers did a good job,” Ballas said, including those who quickly apprehended the first two escapees. Dunn jumped from a prisoner transport van about 5 p.m. Tuesday at a stoplight at Rose and Clinton streets, along with two other prisoners who were recaptured less than two blocks away. The van, operated by Prisoner Transportation Services of America, LLC, an independent company based in Nashville, Tenn., was carrying six prisoners when the escape occurred.