Most Maine DAs have used controversial prisoner transporter in past.
Prosecutors in southern and central Maine have halted contracts with an out-of-state private prisoner transport company in response to allegations of mistreatment that were the focus of a Sun Journal investigation.
District attorneys in York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties had used the services of U.S. Prisoner Transport to perform extraditions, but said recently they would no longer contract with that company until allegations of prisoner mistreatment were disproved.
Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson told the Sun Journal last week her office had contracted with U.S. Prisoner Transport 21 times in 2016, performing roughly half of her office’s total 40 extraditions last year; the remainder by public law enforcement agencies.
She said her office had one pending extradition contract with the company, but she had canceled that contract after learning of mistreatment alleged by two prisoners brought to Maine from Florida on a five-day trip in November 2016 in the back of a USPT van. She said she would put a stop to all future contracts with the company.
“The story’s horrifying, just horrifying” she said of the Sun Journal report published Sunday, March 26.
“I’ve never heard of such a story. I don’t think there’s anybody who would find that treatment acceptable,” she said. “I think we’re all appalled.”
York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery told the Sun Journal in an email that her office had used U.S. Prisoner Transport for at least a decade. In 2015, 21 prisoners were brought to York County by the private company; 19 in 2014; 15 in 2013; and 27 in 2012.
“We have suspended use of the agency at this time” in light of the Sun Journal’s reporting on the company, Slattery wrote.
Andrew Robinson, district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, told the Sun Journal last week he planned to suspend all contracts with the private transport company after learning of the allegations. His office had used that company eight times last year, six times in 2015 and 10 times in 2014.
Anderson said her office used private transport companies because they were less expensive than public agencies. Most of the state’s prosecutors who had used the company said they hadn’t heard directly of complaints like those documented by the Sun Journal.
R. Christopher Almy, district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, said his office has used U.S. Prisoner Transport for at least three years and has “never had any problems with them.”
Although his office doesn’t have an ongoing contract with the company, he said he hires them as needed.
“At this point, based upon our experience with them, we would keep an open mind about whether or not they’re appropriate,” he said. “At this point, I don’t see any reason not to” continue using their services, he said.
Almy said he planned to discuss the matter with Robinson later in the week.
Like Almy, Matthew Foster, district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, said he preferred to keep his options open.
Foster said his office has used U.S. Prisoner Transport twice during the last few years, but hasn’t heard “any complaints from anybody about them.”
His office doesn’t do a lot of extraditions and the private company’s prices just went up “significantly,” he said.
Some district attorneys’ offices don’t use private prisoner transport companies for extraditions: among them Todd Collins, district attorney for Aroostook County, and Meagan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.
Collins said his office uses only public law enforcement agencies for extraditions.
Maloney said: “I never use a private transport company for extraditions.”
She relies solely on the sheriffs’ offices in their respective counties along with local probation and parole offices for those services, she said.
For federal extraditions, she has used federal agents, she said.
“It’s always, always with public agencies,” she said. A municipal police department once conducted an extradition relating to one of their cases, she said.
“In my county, it’s by far the least expensive way to proceed,” Maloney said. “And I have confidence that everything is going to be done the way it should be done. So, it’s a win-win. It’s economically the best choice and it’s the best choice as far as my confidence level in how things are going to be handled.”
The sheriffs’ offices in Kennebec and Somerset counties, who perform the bulk of extraditions for her offices, have been “fantastic” to work with and often will charge only mileage for reimbursement, she said.
“They have been just a real team player in trying to make sure that we’re able to prosecute the people that we need to prosecute,” she said.
For most prosecutors, the cost of transporting prisoners overnight for extraditions is much higher when done by local public law enforcement agencies, if they will even take the jobs. That’s because those agencies generally do single-prisoner transports and require two officers as escorts.
There was a period from 2005 to 2015 when Androscoggin County Sheriff’s deputies would handle some multi-day extraditions for the county district attorney.
Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson, who spent 10 years with the department supervising transports, said not all deputies have the qualifications nor are willing to travel the country collecting prisoners to bring back to Maine. Those jobs require additional training, he said.
The costs can include meals, housing, ground travel, air travel, plus wages. His officers continue to perform day-long extraditions within New England.
But if the District Attorney’s Office needed someone to perform an overnight extradition until another viable option becomes available, Samson said, “I wouldn’t outright say ‘No’ (to sending his staff), but at the same time I’d poll the staff and I’d look to see, do I have staff that has a background that matches up with that within the transport division.”
He added: “If possible, we’d help, but I just know that it’s nothing that we’re willing to just outright say, ‘Hey, we’ll take this on all the time.’ On a case-by-case instance, we’re never going to say ‘No.’ We’ll always look at it. We’re always responsive to any request.”
Most prosecutors’ offices, including those dropping U.S. Prisoner Transport and those who aren’t, are scrambling to find an alternative.
Robinson said he plans to explore his options within the private sector, but will be certain to screen prospective carriers.
“The problem is I don’t know what the alternatives are,” said Almy, district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
Foster, chief prosecutor for Hancock and Washington counties, said he’d be looking around for other options but, depending on the case, may have no other choice.
“If they’re the only game in town, we may have to use them,” he said.
Meghan Quinn, 34, of Lewiston, was one of two prisoners who recounted their five-day ordeal caged in the back of van No. 1304 in the Sun Journal report. She was sentenced to serve an eight-month sentence on a 2011 forgery charge, but was released early from the Androscoggin County Jail on Tuesday after accruing good time and work credits.
Officials at U.S. Prisoner Transport have not responded to repeated requests for information and comment.
— Staff Writer Andrew Rice contributed to this report
The company seal for U.S. Prisoner Transport.