Bad Incentives Create Unsafe Private Prisoner Vans

Eli Hager and Alysia Santo of The New York Times examine the private prisoner transport industry and argue that the lack of oversight has led to a rash of prisoner abuse and escapes.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization, did a review of thousands of court documents and local news articles that uncovered a pattern of neglect and abuse on these private transports.

Since 2012, at least four people have died of treatable medical issues, and since 2000, at least 56 prisoners have escaped from private transport vehicles.

In contrast, the prison systems of Florida, California, and Texas, which handle their own transport systems and hundreds of thousands of inmates every year, only had one prisoner escape from each.

The slim profit margins for the private companies, the authors claim, push the companies to cut corners that make the transports less safe for both prisoners and the guards.

The authors also write that the lack of oversight from the Justice Department has led to substandard and dangerous conditions for prisoners.

Just as the incentive structures around many other criminal justice issues such as civil asset forfeiture continue to warrant close scrutiny, a serious conversation is needed regarding the incentive structure states create when contracting out their criminal justice services, such as the private prison transport industry.

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