Basic civil rights, even for prisoners

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District attorneys representing five Maine counties decided, after becoming aware of allegations of prisoner mistreatment by Prisoner Transport Services, to stop contracting with the for-profit Tennessee-based company.

Good.

Maine taxpayers must not be party to known civil rights violations, financially or otherwise, particularly when public agencies have long proven prisoners can be securely, safely and humanely transported.

Last Sunday Meghan Quinn was featured in a Sun Journal investigation about her mistreatment aboard a U.S. Prisoner Transport van during extradition from Florida to Maine on a warrant for probation violations. She was made to sit or lie on the metal floor of a cramped, unheated cage in the van for five days, at times forced to pee in a plastic bag and defecate in a used sandwich wrapper in front of seven male prisoners.

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Quinn told the Sun Journal that she felt sexually, physically and psychologically humiliated during the trip.

She’s far from alone in her experience.

After our story ran, we heard from a number of people who say they suffered at the hands of PTS, or whose loved ones did. The experiences were remarkably similar: lack of toilets, lack of food, lack of heat in transport vans, being forced to curl in a small cage where it was difficult to move, verbal abuse by guards, lack of showers and clean clothes.

In Quinn’s case, the mistreatment was worse.

And there are others.

In May 2015, Darren Richardson of Spring Hill, Florida, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging civil rights violations, negligence, and assault and battery.

Richardson was arrested in Florida in 2013 on a warrant issued in Pennsylvania for failure to pay $250 in fines. According to court records, the transport vehicle traveled through Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York before delivering Richardson to Pike County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania.

Richardson alleges, among other things, that when he refused to turn over his jewelry to the transport guards, he was denied food. At one point during the 10-day trip, when passengers were transferred to a smaller van to make the drive through New York City, Richardson alleges one of the guards urinated on him.

By the time he arrived in Pennsylvania, Richardson’s legs were purple from the knees down and his feet black from lack of circulation, according to court records. When he was being treated by prison medical staff in Pennsylvania, a nurse told Richardson “that they ‘had seen much worse come off that bus,’” according to court records.

In his suit, Richardson named the transport company, the guards and Pike County Commissioners who hired the transport company. The guards and commissioners have since been dismissed as defendants, and the case is continuing solely against PTS, which has not been cooperative. Just this week, Richardson’s attorney had to ask the court to force the company to produce a roster of other prisoners transported in the van with Richardson.

There have been 14 lawsuits filed against PTS in federal court since 2004, and one in 1985.

In 2013, Phillip Anglin of Illinois filed suit, citing many of the same complaints about civil rights violations as others. He is seeking damages for injuries he received during transport from Texas to Kentucky.

According to medical records, when Anglin arrived at the McLean County Detention Facility in Kentucky by transport van, he was treated for sepsis in his legs because shackles had been placed too tightly during transport.

Anglin represented himself in that case, which was later dismissed because he didn’t follow pro se filing rules of the court.

A review of other federal cases filed against PTS show common allegations of mistreatment.

This is a company that appears to be very comfortable operating in spite of multiple well-documented complaints from prisoners, civil rights advocates, former employees and others.

It’s also a company well aware that jail administrators and district attorneys have few options when it comes to extraditing prisoners. It’s a very expensive proposition for departments to dispatch their own personnel to transport prisoners beyond a day’s drive, and PTS has filled a niche. It’s so secure in its near-monopoly of the prisoner transport business that it recently raised its rates “significantly,” according to Matthew Foster, who is the district attorney for Maine’s Hancock and Washington counties.

Foster’s office has used PTS twice in the past several years and isn’t directly aware of any problems, so he’s not yet inclined to end his relationship with the company.

Not so for District Attorney Andrew Robinson, who prosecutes cases in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, and district attorneys Stephanie Anderson in Cumberland and Kathryn Slattery in York.

After becoming aware of Quinn’s allegations, all three said they have stopped using PTS.

Good.

Better would be if all district attorneys in Maine turned their backs on PTS. Work together to make conditions of prisoner transport equal to prisoner housing.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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