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9-11 Prompts New Regulations for Prisoner Airline Transports

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) transferred its rulemaking authority regarding civil aviation security to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA subsequently promulgated new rules regarding the transportation of prisoners on civilian airlines.

The new regulation, 49 C.F.R. § 1544.221, effective February 17, 2002, requires that all prisoners be classified as either high or low risk. A "high risk prisoner" is any prisoner who is an exceptional escape risk and has been charged with, or convicted of, any violent offense. Each low risk prisoner must be escorted by at least one armed law enforcement officer during the flight, while high risk prisoners require at least two guards. In either case, the prisoner's identity and classification must be disclosed to the airline. The new rule was adopted without prior notice or public comment.

The new regulation also mandates the airline to provide priority boarding for prisoners, and to seat them in the rear of the plane, if at all possible. Airline personnel are also prohibited from serving prisoners food or beverages without prior approval of the escorting official.

The most significant aspect of the new regulation is that it requires all prisoners, regardless of their designation, to be handcuffed throughout the flight. Previously airlines were not required to manacle low risk prisoners. The practical effect of this rule is that some airlines are considering whether to discontinue the transportation of prisoners.

For example, Southwest Airlines has recently decided to stop transporting Nevada fugitives due to concerns about public perception of having shackled prisoners on their planes. Martin Stepina, manager of the Nevada Fugitive Unit for the Division of Parole and Probation, said that the decision has placed his agency in a bind because he now has to rely on inefficient ground transportation companies or more expensive airlines in order to return fugitives to Nevada. It is unknown whether other airlines plan to follow Southwest's example.

Sources: Federal Register ;Las Vegas ReviewJournal

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