Every year, tens of thousands of fugitives and suspects are transported by a handful of small private companies that specialize in state and local extraditions, reports the Marshall Project. A review of court documents, federal records, and local news articles, and interviews with 50 current or former guards and executives shows a pattern of prisoner abuse and neglect in an industry that operates with little oversight. Since 2012, at least four people 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. In another, guards mocked a prisoner’s pain before he died from a perforated ulcer.
The company’s Robert Downs said guards were instructed to contact local officials when a medical emergency arises. “Unless it’s life or death, we can’t open the cage on the vehicle,” he said. “We don’t know if they’re setting us up for something.” Training for guards, many of whom are military veterans, is often limited, 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, including one who later stabbed a police officer. The companies are usually paid per prisoner per mile, giving them incentive to pack the vans and take as few breaks as possible. Crashes have killed a dozen prisoners and guards.