Growth Industry: Moving Inmates over Road but Enforcement Officials Worry about Escapes, Public Safety and Drivers' Training

Article excerpt

A COLLECTION OF murderers, car thieves, bank robbers and rapists cruises through Colorado Springs on Interstate 25, air conditioning on high and the radio playing.

The van they are in stops at a fast-food restaurant, but they are not on a crime rampage. Under guard, they are simply getting dinner and taking a bathroom break.

One by one, they exit from a steel-mesh cage bolted inside the van. Each is wearing leg irons, waist chains and handcuffs. Welcome to the world of prisoner transportation. It's a booming business across the country, as more state and county jailers try to rein in the cost of transporting inmates. Every day, unmarked vans with tinted windows, two-way radios and cellular phones trek across the country on highways through major cities. Most of the transports are made successfully. But not always. Traffic crashes have killed guards and inmates when exhausted drivers pushed themselves too far. And escapes have occurred when vans broke down or guards fell asleep on duty. In July, Dennis Patrick Glick, a convicted rapist and kidnapper, escaped from a private transport company van in southeastern Colorado. Because of that escape, Colorado sheriffs are pushing for new state laws to mandate basic safety and training requirements for private companies doing business in the state. Currently, no such guidelines exist. "We need to do something," said Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino, chairman of the Colorado County Sheriff's Association. Glick was being driven by Federal Extradition Agency Inc. from a jail in Salt Lake City to Pine Bluffs, Ark. The company is based in Memphis, Tenn. When the van stopped at the Crowley County Jail in Ordway, Colo., 90 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, Glick saw his chance to flee. While still in the van, Glick allegedly grabbed a gun from a guard who had fallen asleep. Glick then improvised. First he made hostages out of the guard and seven other inmates in the van. His next victim was a rancher who was forced to travel with him. He allegedly stole two vehicles and a horse before leading about 60 law enforcement officials on an all-night chase across the Colorado prairie. He was recaptured the next morning while riding the stolen horse, waving a gun in one hand. Remarkably, no one was hurt in the episode. Authorities agree that Glick's case was unusual, but it shows the potential danger that exists when vans of dangerous criminals are cruising the highways with other travelers. Thousands of inmates are being transported on highways every day, said Jim Cure, founder of Extraditions International Inc. in Denver. It happens all the time, and most of it is done safely. Extraditions International, for example, makes about 400 transports a month. Some inmates have been arrested on a warrant in another city. Others need to be moved from a jail in one state to a less-crowded institution elsewhere. Sometimes, inmates are moved after they've been victimized in a jail. TransCor America Inc., in Nashville, Tenn., is considered to be the largest inmate transport company in the country. Its 250 employees use about 100 vans to haul 40,000 prisoners a year. Federal Extradition Agency Inc. is another major company. Its director, Mark Burgan, declined comment on his business and referred questions to the company's attorney, Matt Heider, who did not return calls. …