Securing Prisoners On the Move

Some of the biggest security threats come about when an inmate has to be moved for court or medical appointments. Transport security can be boosted with correctly-equipped vehicles and personnel, or by considering the alternative: staying put by using video.

Keeping prisoners secure when transporting them to court houses and prisons can be a daunting task, says Tom Wagner, vice president, Public Sector Sales, Motor Coach Industries (MCI).  “We recommend law enforcement operate the right equipment for the mission—ISTV (Inmate Security Transportation Vehicle) versus a school bus.” He says this maximizes security because MCI partners with its operators, seeking feedback and incorporating improvements like bullet resistant materials, surveillance cameras, segregation barriers, and others. In addition, specific prisoner transport vehicles can be designed to have a low profile (exterior), thus minimizing attention to the mission. When designing security,” he adds, “try to think like a criminal.”

One of the most significant challenges is transporting inmates with different classifications, Wagner emphasizes, that is, different gang affiliations, male/females, felons/misdemeanors, etc.  Thus, prisoner transports need to have flexibility to maintain security for officers and inmates. With the aging inmate population, accessibility is an increasing challenge, Wagner notes, and to handle special needs, “many agencies are including wheel chair lifts/ramps in their prisoner transports.

Environmental concerns are coming into play in prison fleet decisions. “Like many areas, there is an increasing interest in minimizing the environmental footprint and thus new propulsion technology: CNG, hybrid and electric.  In general, interest is positive, however, the performance of some of the technologies, such as 100 percent electric, still have some limitations, such as range, in this application,” Wagner continues.  

During the recent redesign of the company’s inmate transport system, Bob Barker Company reached out to customers to see what their biggest concerns were when transporting inmates. “We learned that agencies want to ensure the safety of inmates and officers, while simplifying transport as much as possible,” said Sharon Watson, product manager. “Our team took all the feedback from customers and implemented the following improvements and features into the final design of the VanCell Elite.”

Safety: Seatbelts are throughout the vehicle for both officers and inmates, fire extinguishers are located in the front and rear, and the vehicle is equipped with emergency egress releases. Security: Lockable storage compartments are located in the front of the vehicle to store weapons, a four-camera monitoring system located in the front of the van allows officers to watch the inmates, a forward-facing bench at the front of the van seats up to three inmates, with a segregation door for isolation purposes, and a mid-wall is located in between the two back benches to separate inmates.

Simplifying Transport: An extended van length allows up to 13 inmates to be transported, a document holder is mounted to keep officers organized, there’s additional storage space underneath the rear benches, and included is LED lighting and padded seating throughout. The ADA Compliant Option, she notes, is very important to customers: The front compartment can be converted to accommodate a wheelchair, allowing nine inmates to be transported at one time. A pull-down ramp is included for easy entry, seats easily collapse to allow wheelchair entry, and the rear-facing wheelchair is secured by ADA-approved anchors.

In the case of violent actors, correctional facilities can help minimize security issues by equipping their officers with proper protective equipment. One such piece of personal gear is the PACA Cell Extraction Suit, says Merle Davis, corrections specialist–West Region, Point Black Enterprises, Inc. Protective Apparel Corporation of America (PACA) is a key brand of Point Blank Enterprises, Inc. “When combined with PACA Blade Plates that are inserted into the carrier, the officer will have edge weapon protection, as well.  This protective system allows correctional officers to be better protected and safe during movements and transportations.”  

“One of the biggest concerns I see today in facilities is that the everyday correctional officers either do not have or wear the proper safety equipment,” Davis furthers.  “This includes vests with spike and/or ballistic protection, cell extraction equipment, helmets, riot shields and other products that are available, so that they can perform their everyday tasks with absolute safety.”  
On the negative side, budget limitations challenge facilities to be able to provide the best and safest equipment to conduct their job, he says. “There are other sources of funding protective armor for correctional officers. Since 1999, over 13,000 jurisdictions have participated in the BVP (Bulletproof Vest Partnership) Program, with a total of $412 million in federal funds for the purchase of over one million vests.” 

Also typically used in transporting, Stun-Cuff was developed by Brad Myers, owner, and president of Myers Enterprises, Inc. makers of Stun-Cuff. In addition to transport, “Stun-Cuff is used in courts a lot; remember during trial the offender has to appear innocent so no visible means of restraint can be seen. Stun-Cuff is worn under the pant leg so if the offender jumps up to grab the judge the officer can activate the device and it puts him down on the ground.

“It’s the same if you are doing a hospital run,” Myers continues. “Many doctors won’t allow patients to be handcuffed; they don’t want them to be paraded around the hospital that way.” And in treatment it helps especially if there is a petite or elderly practitioner, “it’s a good idea to have as an equalizer.”

It’s a great deterrent when you demonstrate before you put it on, he says. “When you activate the device it contracts the muscle in the leg so it pulls the foot up to the rear.” He says there has never been any litigation against it, which he partly attributes to the deterrent aspect and also notes its accountability. “It is a wireless unit so you can pull up the time and date it was fired if there is an accusation. The biggest point though is it’s demonstrated beforehand so if they do get stunned they did something wrong. The dataport will coincide with them trying to escape, fight, or go after someone.”
Another integral part of safety is eliminating contraband. “We receive calls and emails every week from facilities that are having serious problems with contraband,” says Randy Hill, director of sales, Black Creek. “The easiest way to eliminate the opportunity for contraband to enter the facility is to limit or ban altogether contact between the inmates and visitors.

“Our video visitation systems are also a great way to generate revenue for facilities by providing a simple way to charge for remote visits. The agency sets the rates and monitors the visits,” he says noting, “Visits are typically far less costly in time and money, when compared to physically traveling to the correctional facility.”

He adds, “Our video visitation systems can also accommodate inmates and visitors with physical disabilities. Black Creek provides handicapped visitation booths for handicapped visitors and an IP Visitor Roll-Around Cart for confined or bed-ridden inmates.”

And rather than transport those inmates for medical appointments, “We are seeing increased interest from our clients to expand the use of telehealth,” says Martha Harbin, director of External Affairs, Corizon Health. “Telehealth is a key strategy we use to maintain and improve quality of care while remaining fiscally accountable to our clients.”

When cost savings is discussed as a reason to look into telehealth, there is no appreciable cost-savings on the medical side, and there actually is an increased cost associated with installing and maintaining the equipment and infrastructure, she says. “Potential cost savings would come on the security side by reducing the cost of transportation and correctional officers needed to accompany the patient. Other benefits to telehealth include increased public safety by not transporting offenders outside the walls.”

Plus almost every specialty will have peripheral equipment for the telehealth unit, so there needs to be a calculation about how often a particular specialty is needed, and whether the cost of installing the telehealth equipment to support that specialty outweighs the cost of transportation, she says.

“The main benefit that we as a correctional healthcare provider see in telehealth is that it supports our provider recruiting efforts, enabling us to recruit qualified candidates who might otherwise be hesitant to work inside a correctional facility.” Also, “We have conducted some limited surveys and have found inmates generally seem to like it.”

Tele-psychiatry is the most common form of telehealth provided to the inmate population, she explains. “The equipment needed is relatively inexpensive; there is a shortage of psychiatrists willing to work in a correctional environment; and those who will treat this population are often unwilling or unable to travel great distances to remotely-located prisons.”

In addition to tele-psychiatry other common uses of telemedicine include cardiology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, ENT, and dermatology consultations, she says, then adds, “we are also using telehealth for infectious disease and follow up, nephrology, and oncology in some of our state contracts.”

The scope of telehealth is already wide and growing. For example, Harbin points out that Corizon Health “has conducted more than 70,000 telehealth visits through 2016—77 percent were tele-psychiatry and 23 percent were telehealth. We provide over 20 telehealth specialties and tele-psychiatry in 115 sites nationwide.”

The industry has already seen the heightened level of security that telemedicine, video visitation and properly-executed and equipped inmate transportation bring to the table, and these are sure to continue gaining ground in the years to come—to lessen the risks associated with safety, provide timely doctor visits and perhaps even save money.