Search About Donate
A former Prisoner Transportation Services of America van at an automotive repair shop in Smyrna, Tenn.
Investigate Your State

How to Investigate Private Prisoner Transport in Your State

Help us localize our national story on this for-profit industry.

Today, in collaboration with The New York Times, we published an investigation into the little-known world of for-profit prisoner transport. Through our reporting, we found a pattern of death and injury in an industry that operates with almost no government oversight. The pressure to turn a profit, we discovered, causes these companies to send their vans out on the road for weeks at a time — rarely stopping for sleep, food, bathrooms or medical care. There have been a host of deadly crashes, escapes and emergencies.

Over eight months, we surveyed the departments of correction in all 50 states, and we found that 26 of them use private companies to transport parolees, fugitives, and other prisoners. But many city and county governments, big and small, also use these companies. That means there’s still a lot of reporting that could be done to localize this story.

That’s where you come in. If you want to know whether government agencies in your area use for-profit prisoner transport companies — and how often — we’ve prepared a guide to reporting on this industry. You will also need to dig for the stories of individuals who have been transported to and from (and through) your town on these vans.

If you publish a story about your state or city’s use of private extradition companies, email a link to asanto@themarshallproject.org. We’ll link back to your article in a collection on this page.

Step 1: Determine whether your state’s department of correction uses a private prisoner transport company

Check this map below to see if you’re in a state that contracts with a private extradition company. If you are, call the agency to confirm the information. Ask them why they use a private company instead of transporting their prisoners themselves. Many will explain the cost savings associated with this practice.

Outsourcing extraditions
Source: Marshall Project survey of state corrections departments
Note: Extradition companies also service local law enforcement, not indicated here
Step 2: If you’re looking for a more local angle, call your own community’s law enforcement agency and ask them the same question: whether they contract with, or hire, a for-profit company to extradite people who have been located elsewhere in the country.

Prison Transportation Services, the largest company in the field, says it has “contracts or relationships” with about 800 state and county agencies, according to federal filings.

This could be your local sheriff, your local police department, or even your local district attorney. Ask how often they use the services of the private extradition company, how much they pay the company per mile, and whether they have an ongoing contract.

Step 3: Request invoices

Send a request under your state’s open records law to your state, city or county asking for all invoices from these companies. When picking a time frame for the request, keep in mind that while asking for invoices over a span of a few years might take longer to get back from the agency, it will give you a better idea of how often these extraditions occur and how far of a distance people are generally being transported from.

When you receive the invoices, find some of the individuals listed — people who have been extradited in the past. We used Facebook and a Nexis database to locate people, but you could use a free service such as Spokeo (and sometimes even a simple Google search can help locate someone). Their stories could become seeds for your own article.

Step 4: Search state and local court databases for lawsuits against the company

Search local court records for lawsuits against the company or companies that your local government contracts with. We searched in PACER, a database of federal court proceedings, and in Westlaw, which covers some, but not all, states.

Step 5: Find employees

We used LinkedIn and Facebook searches to identify current and former employees of these companies. Ask them about their training, how they were hired, what they fed the prisoners, how often they stopped for restroom breaks, how much they were paid, how long they were typically on the road at a time, how they stayed awake, what they were instructed to do in medical emergencies, and whatever else sparks your curiosity.

Step 6: Talk to local law enforcement

We spoke to several law enforcement agencies that had become wary of private transport after escapes or crashes in their communities. One sheriff even said he sends an escort whenever he knows a private van is passing through. Other agencies might explain how budget pressures lead to more privatization.