October 08, 2019

Senators Warren and Booker, Rep. Deutch Call for Greater Oversight of Private Prisoner Transport Companies

Warren-led Investigation Confirms that DOJ is Conducting Little to No Oversight

Lawmakers Call on DOJ IG to Investigate Reports of Inhumane, Unsafe Conditions

 Letter to DOJ IG (PDF) | February 2019 Letter to PTS | PTS Initial Response (PDF) | PTS Secondary Response (PDF)

Boston, MA - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Representative Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) last week sent a letter to Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting that the IG conduct an audit of the private prisoner transportation industry and evaluate whether DOJ is conducting sufficient oversight of for-profit prisoner transport companies to ensure that they are complying with federal law and regulations.

Prison Transport Services (PTS), a leading prisoner transport company, and its subsidiaries have come under scrutiny following reports published by the Marshall Project and the New York Times detailing inhumane and unsafe conditions in PTS vehicles, including reports of unsanitary practices, physical and sexual abuse, and inattentiveness to basic and urgent medical needs of prisoners, many of whom have not been convicted of a crime. Since 2012, at least five individuals have died while in PTS's custody.

Following these reports, Senators Warren and Booker and Representative Deutch wrote to PTS in February 2019, requesting information regarding the policies and procedures that PTS and its subsidiaries have implemented to comply with federal law and regulations governing the transportation of arrestees and incarcerated individuals. For the first time today, they released to the public PTS's responses to their questions.

"The information in the responses suggests that, despite numerous reports of problems that endanger prisoners and the public, DOJ appears to be failing to provide critical oversight of private prisoner transportation companies," wrote the lawmakers. "In order to ensure the health and safety of individuals being transported in these vans, we urge you to conduct an audit or evaluation of the for-profit prisoner transportation industry, and determine whether DOJ is conducting appropriate oversight of these companies."

Senator Warren has led a series of investigations into the private companies that benefit from the detention and incarceration of individuals.

  • In August 2018, she and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to then-Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen raising concerns about abusive practices used by private prisons to coerce prisoners into participating in "voluntary" work programs. Senator Warren later called on the DHS IG to further investigate these practices. 
  • Following a DHS IG report regarding unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers, Senator Warren opened investigations into two of the country's largest private prison contractors, along with the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities. In April 2019, she released the prison companies' responses, which revealed that none of the companies had taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS IG and demonstrated an ongoing dispute between the auditor and the IG about the quality of the auditor's inspections. 
  • In April 2019, she and Senator Booker, along with Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), reintroduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a bill that would make it easier for women behind bars to keep in touch with their families, better prepare incarcerated women to return to their communities, and provide better trauma-informed care for women behind bars.
  • Senator Warren has also raised questions about the accreditation of private prison and immigration detention facilities and has called for an end to the use of such contractors and private prisons entirely.