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The rear holding compartment of a Prisoner Transportation Services van.

Congressman Calls for Probe into Private Prisoner Transport

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, keeps up pressure on the House.

A Florida congressman urged his colleagues and the Department of Justice on Wednesday to investigate deaths and abuses on for-profit prisoner transport vehicles, renewing calls for scrutiny of the industry first raised on Capitol Hill last summer.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D.-Fla) cited a recent Marshall Project story of a 29-year-old New York man who died in March on a bus operated by Prisoner Transportation Services, the nation’s largest extradition company. It was at least the fifth prisoner death on a PTS vehicle since 2012.

“I am extremely concerned with recent reports describing horrific conditions and loss of life,” Deutch said at a general Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals.

Deutch has repeatedly called for a hearing to probe the lack of federal oversight of private prisoner transport companies. After a Marshall Project investigation on the industry was published in the New York Times in July, then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch promised her office would report back to the committee on the issue. But there has been little follow-up.

After Deutch’s remarks, the subcommittee moved onto other topics without comment, as is common at general oversight hearings. It is not clear if a hearing will be scheduled.

Every year, tens of thousands of men and women — many of whom have not been convicted of a crime — are transported by private extradition companies to faraway jurisdictions where they have open arrest warrants or pending criminal cases. Countless state and local law enforcement agencies hire these companies, paying by the mile.

Since 2000, the industry has been responsible for 16 deaths, 14 alleged sexual assaults, 60 escapes, and more than 50 crashes, The Marshall Project found.

Kevin Eli, the Queens man who died last month, was being transported from Virginia to Florida to face a nine-year-old burglary charge. Passengers said he begged for medical attention but was ignored by guards until it was too late.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Deutch noted that lawmakers could revisit and strengthen a 2000 federal law meant to regulate the extradition industry, commonly known as Jeanna’s Act. The law has been enforced only once.

Deutch then asked the two witnesses at the hearing — Thomas Kane, acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, and David Harlow, acting director of the U.S. Marshals — whether the federal government contracts with PTS. Both said no and added that extradition companies are used mainly by state and local agencies.

They said their agencies hire larger private companies, including GEO Group, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), and Management and Training Corporation, to help ferry prisoners across the country.