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Merger of Prisoner Transport Companies Delayed after Objections Filed

Prisoner Transportation Services, also known as PTS of America, LLC, bills itself as the “largest prisoner extradition company and one of the largest national transporters of detainees” in the United States.

The firm, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, was recently advised by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), a federal regulatory agency, that its application to merge with U.S. Corrections, one of its competitors, had been delayed after the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) filed a detailed comment objecting to the merger. HRDC is the parent organization of Prison Legal News.

PLN has been a longtime critic of the prisoner transportation industry, citing numerous accidents resulting in deaths and injuries of both prisoners and guards as well as escapes, sexual abuse and other problems. PLN has also noted abysmal conditions during prisoner transports. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.60; Sept. 2006, p.1].

According to HRDC’s August 8, 2016 comment filed with the STB, “Prisoners have reported that transport drivers sometimes refuse to stop for restroom breaks, causing them to urinate or defecate in transport vehicles; fail to provide water or adequate food; fail to respond to medical emergencies; fail to provide sanitary pads or tampons to female prisoners who are menstruating; drive in a dangerous manner, including speeding to meet trip schedules; and fail to ensure that prisoners are secured in seatbelts ... [plus] there have been numerous examples and allegations of sexual and physical abuse involving private prisoner transport guards.”

HRDC added that as a private company, PTS has an incentive “to transport as many prisoners as quickly as possible, and to maximize efficiencies in terms of picking up and dropping off prisoners by keeping them on the road for extended periods of time – sometimes weeks – often in cramped, unsanitary conditions.”

According to PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, “While the merger may result in economies of scale for the combined company, and result in efficiencies related to the combined company’s business model, that simply reflects benefits to the company, not necessarily to the public.” He argued that the merger was “not consistent with the public interest.”

HRDC’s comment listed a litany of escapes, deaths, accidents and abuses involving PTS and U.S. Corrections, including, among others, the 2012 death of Steven Galack, 46, who died in a transport van after being assaulted by other prisoners; an April 2016 accident in Colorado that sent 12 prisoners and two guards to a hospital; the April 2016 escape of prisoners Michael Andrew Rotunno and James T. Banks from a transport van in Florida; and the January 2016 death of prisoner William Culpepper, Jr., 36, during a transport from Kentucky to Mississippi due to a “perfectly treatable” perforated ulcer.

Such incidents, in addition to a joint investigative article by The Marshall Project and The New York Times, attracted the attention of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, who questioned the practices of the prisoner transportation industry. In July 2016, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in response to a letter from Senator Booker, said her office would look into the lack of federal oversight over transport companies. Shortly afterwards, PTS stated it was making improvements that included installing cameras and GPS tracking devices in its vehicles and hiring an independent auditor.

Although the delay in approval of the PTS and U.S. Corrections merger is only temporary, it serves to focus additional attention on systemic problems and abuses within the prisoner transportation industry and the need for reforms. Besides HRDC’s comment, only one other comment was filed with the STB in objection to the merger – by an attorney representing a prisoner who was injured during a transport accident.


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