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Non- Emergency Transportation of Inmates
By William Sturgeon
Published: 04/20/2009

Inmate in court2009apr02 Editors note: Corrections.com author, William Sturgeon, is an emergency preparedness and counterterrorism planning expert. He has more than 35 years of experience in the criminal justice field, and has managed security operations for sheriffs’ offices and correctional agencies across the United States.

Over the past several months there have been some news stories about prisoner escapes during transports. In this month’s session we are going to examine the Non- Emergency Transportation of inmates techniques and precautions.

The transportation of inmates is a very dangerous task and every effort should be made to reduce the risks of the transporting officers getting hurt, the inmate (s) escaping, and protection of the general public.

Any inmate, regardless of custody level, should be considered an ESCAPE RISK and therefore, all security policies and procedures must be followed.

It only takes one mistake on the part of the transporting officers for the inmate to gain the upper-hand and kill or injure the officers and/or escape. Complacency, carelessness, and /or disregard for established policies and procedures lead to disaster events during transports.

Transportation of inmates can be broken down into 6 phases:
  • Preparation
  • Searching of inmates
  • Transportation to destination
  • Arrival at destination
  • Return to facility
  • Emergencies / Extra-Ordinary Situations

  • Preparation

    The preparation phase is where the transporting officer (s) insures that they are prepared to move the inmate (s) from the security of the facility to the outside world (or as inmates call it Free-world).
    • First, the transporting officers must insure that they have the correct paperwork needed for each inmate being transported.
      • An “Escape Packet” should be made-up for every inmates being transported. (An escape packet should contain: A current picture of the inmate, last known visitors-home address, telephone numbers, and the registration number of their vehicles. It should also, include the charges for which the inmate is now being incarcerated. Types of clothing being worn at the time of transport.)
      • Log sheets for the vehicle. (Insure that log sheets are in the vehicle and are filled properly.)
      • A mechanical check of the vehicle (Spare tire, jack & lug wrench, emergency flairs, (Fix-a-Flat aerosol can), radio check, first aid kid, fuel, and oil. (Also the vehicle should be checked for any damage. If mechanical or damage is found during this check it should be reported to a supervisors prior to transporting any inmates.)
      • Checkout weapons / ammunition
      • Search of the transporting vehicle (Remove back seat check for contraband, check under front seats by looking under them from the backseat from contraband, search everywhere that the inmates will be able to access.)
      • Any medication that the inmates being transported may need while they are away from the institution. (The administration and the transport officers should always, plan ahead, in the event that the inmates are away from the institution longer than anticipated, and have an emergency dosage of medicines that are crucial to the inmates health conditions.)
      • Directions to emergency services:
        • Hospitals
        • Fire Stations
        • EMS Stations
        • Municipal Police Station / Precinct
        • State Police Barracks
        • Court Houses
    • There are those who believe that the most dangerous time during a transport is within five to ten miles of the correctional institution where the inmates have been assigned. The author believes, that in today’s world the most dangerous time of a transport start as soon as the vehicle leaves the “security” of the facility and continues until the inmates are safely back in the facility.

    Searching of the inmates that are going to be transported

    Transporting officers are responsible for searching every inmate that they will be transporting. While other officers’ may have already searched and applied restraints to inmates who are going to be transported, this does not relieve the transporting officer from conducting their own searches. Additionally, the transportation officer should conduct a thorough check of the restraints on every inmate to be transported.

    The pre-transportation searches and inspections of restraints cannot be stressed enough. Once transportation officers leave the security of the facility it might their searches or checks of restraints that prevents them from being injured or killed and/or the inmates escaping. The extra couple of minutes that these tasks take is well worth it when you’re driving down the highway.

    Transportation to Destination

    Once the sally-port door closes and the transportation officers and inmates are on their way to where they are going. Knowing the destination of the inmates is important for several reasons:

    • It can determine the behavior – If inmates are being transported back and forth to court during their trial process they usually demonstrate a more subdued behavior. After inmates have been found guilty, and they are being transported to the penitentiary, they could become desperate and/or depressed. If inmates are being transported from the facility for healthcare or dental care reasons, this could be an opportunity for them to escape.
    • It can determine the behavior of others who know the defendant – With the gang members and terrorists now an integral part of the criminal justice system transportation routes need to be closely checked to prevent driving through a neighborhood where an ambush could take place. Inmates charged with crimes that might excite extreme anger in their victims or their victims’ relatives or friends, etc.
    • It can determine the behavior of the other inmates being transported – Other inmates being transported might attempt an attack on one of more other inmates being transported for a variety of reasons – ranging from assault on a child, issues that arose in the facility, gang activity, and/or a rouse to assist in a escape, etc.

    All during the transportation officers should be paying attention to what is going around them and with the inmates that they are transporting. The driver, of course, should be following all of the traffic laws. In addition, the driver should be checking the rearview mirror to insure that they are not being followed.

    Arrival at Destination

    Upon arriving at the destination transportation officers have a tendency to relax and let down their guard. When in reality this can be a very dangerous time. There are some steps that transportation officers should even before they open the doors of their vehicle.

    • Do a visual inspection of the area – (The officers should be looking for suspicious people stand around, people wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather, vehicle with its motor running. Remember: The vehicle is the officers’ perimeter once the door is open the perimeter is violated.)
    • Radio the home facility to notify them that you have arrived at your destination – (The transportation officers should advise the institution of any difficulties incurred during the trip and/or any specious persons or activities at the destination. If applicable see if the destination can provide additional security if needed.)
    • Talk to the inmates being transported to assess their moods – (The transportation officers’ should talk the inmates prior to opening their doors to the transportation vehicle to assess their moods. The officers’ are looking to see if the inmates are agitated, anxious, etc. These conditions could be indications of an escape attempt and/or the opportunity to assault the officers.)

    Prior to opening to the door to let the inmates being transported out of the vehicle, the transported officers should strategically position themselves so that they can provide the best security possible.

    Return to Facility

    Depending on where the inmates being transported have been will determine if the transporting officer want to re-search them. If the inmates have never been out of the transporting officers’ direct view then the transporting officers’ may forgo the pre-transportation search. Otherwise, it is always advisable to search the inmates prior to being transported.

    The same precaution should be followed going back to the facility as were followed when leaving the facility. Inmates who have been sentenced can become desperate (regardless of the length of the sentence) and may act out during the transport.

    There is an old saying, “the closer you get to the institution is the most dangerous time of a transport.”

    Conduct a thorough search of the transportation vehicle, for contraband, after the inmates have exited the vehicle.

    Emergencies / Extra-Ordinary Occurrences

    There are several different types of emergencies that can occur when inmates are being transported. The one thing that transportation officers should know if an emergency occurs are:
    • Immediately inform the facility of your location, the type of emergency that is taking place, if help is needed- and the type of help (EMS, Fire Service, Law Enforcement, change of route and for what reason, etc.) Mechanical problems (to include a flat tire) with the transportation vehicle.

    Communication is crucial element of transporting inmates. Too often transportation fail to keep the facility advised of their status.

Conclusion

The duty of transporting inmates carries with it a great deal of responsibility and risk. Transportation officers must always be aware of their surroundings, the inmates that they are transporting, the intervention of outside sources that could create a dangerous situation for them or for the inmates that they are transporting.

Ill trained or complacent transportation officers jeopardizes their own safety and security, the safety and security of the general public, and the safety and security of the other inmates being transported.

When one thinks about the number of inmate transports that take place on a daily basis without incident it is a credit to the officers responsible for all of those transports. As with most things associated with the field of corrections they are done professionally by dedicated public servants.

Other articles William Sturgeon


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