Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Private Prison Companies in America - Who's Accountable?

A PTS crash killed two guards & a prisoner in Georgia
 in 2009; the driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel
It's been over a month since I last blogged about my personal reflections on an NYPD prisoner transport van I saw parked on West 83rd street in Manhattan on a scorching summer day years ago when I lived in New York City.

Sadly, a joint investigation by The New York Times and The Marshall Project released back on July 6th reveals that being stuck in a stuffy NYPD van for a few hours pales in comparison to the nightmare of for-profit prison transports.

Deaths involving people being transported across vast distances by vehicles operated by companies like Prisoner Transportation Services of America have been making headlines for years; like the crash shown in the photo above that took place at 1:24am back on August 4, 2009 in Greene County, Georgia which killed two guards and a prisoner - none of the prisoners were secured by seat belts.

But as more and more local municipalities and states began outsourcing prisoner transport to for-profit companies in response to shrinking tax revenue in the wake of the Great Recession in 2008, the number of incidents including accidents, rapes, beatings, denial of food and medical care, escapes and deaths taking place have exploded - leaving serious questions about the absence of concrete government oversight of an industry that largely operates in the shadows.    

Denise Issacs died in a PTS van in 2014
Kudos to The Marshall Project and The New York Times for devoting resources to investigating the handful of companies that now handle the transportation of suspects, detainees and prisoners for at least 25 different states in America.

Including the state of Kentucky where 54-year-old Denise Issacs (pictured left) was shackled into a prisoner transport van back in 2014 with other male and female occupants to be transported over 900 miles away to Florida over parole violations related to $1,200 in items she allegedly shoplifted from a store.

Her parole violation?

She failed to pay about $600 in court fees and complete 200 hours of community service - she was found dead in the van when the guards stopped at a Taco Bell in Miami.

That van was also operated by Prisoner Transportation Services of America.

Since the release of the results of The Marshall Project investigation, over the past few weeks, various programs on NPR have devoted segments to this issue.

Yesterday The Leonard Lopate Show ran a segment interviewing Eli Hager and Alysia Santo, the reporters who wrote The New York Times story and conducted extensive research into prisoner transport vans.

During the segment, Roberta Blake, a woman who was transported from California to Alabama over a rental car that she'd returned, spoke about her harrowing two week journey in which she was the lone woman chained in the back of a van with dangerous convicted felons - seriously, if you've got about 30 minutes click the link and listen to her story.

Reporter Shane Bauer in his CCA uniform
It's shocking that this is happening in 21st century America both outside and inside of the prison-industrial complex that incarcerates and warehouses people for profit.

By the way, if you want to take a look at what's happening inside of for-profit prisons run by companies like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), be sure and check out the expose published in the July/August 2016 issue of Mother Jones written by Shane Bauer.

His searing article titled "My Four Months As a Prison Guard", chronicles his effort to go undercover to work as a prison guard at the Winn Correctional Center in rural Winnfield, Louisiana.

Obviously it's cutting edge journalism, but as a writer I have to say that one of the most disturbing aspects is that it almost reads like a movie or an HBO series - but it's real.

The things he describes are happening to real people, right now as you read these words; here in the "greatest Democracy in the world".

Listening to Roberta Blake's interview or reading Shane Bauer's article, I'm left wondering where's the oversight? And who is accountable for what's happening in this dark corner of the American landscape?

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