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Implementing scenario-based prisoner transport training

Inmate transport is the weakest link in our inmate chain of custody, so correctional facilities must provide the training and tools necessary for safe transport

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Prisoner transport training should address all scenarios including the evacuation of prisoners. In this photo, prisoners from the Galveston County Jail are evacuated as Hurricane Rita heads for the Texas Gulf Coast Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005 in Galveston, Texas.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

There are few places more dynamic, emotional and potentially dangerous to transport an inmate than a courthouse. The CorrectionsOne Academy features a course on transporting and monitoring inmates going to court in a way that is safe and efficient for the inmate, correctional officers and others. Visit the CorrectionsOneAcademy to learn more and for an online demo.

The safety of our corrections officers and the community depend on correctional facilities providing the training and tools necessary for the safe transport of inmates.

Inmate transports are the weakest link in our inmate chain of custody. This is why implementing scenario-based prisoner transport training is so important. Having officers participate in real-world training scenarios is the key to success.

When Prison Transport Goes Wrong

Officer Smith was assigned to transport one inmate on an outside medical appointment to the eye doctor.

Officer Smith searched his transport vehicle for contraband prior to departure. A vehicle inspection and fuel check was then conducted. Officer Smith conducted a radio check and inspected the inmate restraints.

The inmate was escorted up to the sally port area. The escorting officer said the inmate had already been searched and he was good to go. As any experienced, well-trained officer would do, Officer Smith searched the inmate for contraband again. Officer Smith knew the inmate was now his sole responsibility.

Inmate restraints were placed on the inmate. Officer Smith sat the inmate in the transport vehicle and placed him in the safety belt. Officer Smith called control and informed them he was departing for the pre-determined location with one inmate. Officer Smith knew to never give the transport location over the radio. Officer Smith was on his way.

The eye doctor had a history of hiding inmates from his general public patients, so he had all transport vehicles drive to the back of his private office building and have correctional officers bring the inmates in through the back door.

Officer Smith pulled into the parking lot behind the eye doctor’s office and called into control by phone that he had reached his destination. As Officer Smith was removing the inmate from the transport vehicle, he was approached by a man and woman who held him at gunpoint. They made Officer Smith remove the inmate’s physical restraints and then used the restraints on Officer Smith and placed him in the backseat of the transport vehicle with a safety belt. Officer Smith’s radio, phone and keys were taken by the suspects who drove off with the inmate.

Scenarios like this occur too often. Some, tragically, have ended with the murder of an officer. In this scenario, Officer Smith did everything he could for a safe trip. As we look at this scenario, we must ask:

  • What went wrong?
  • Who released sensitive information?
  • Who is responsible for this?

Here are some things to consider in this scenario:

  • Activate emergency action plans.
  • Start a criminal investigation. Investigate anyone involved with transport documents and appointment set-ups, including all eye doctor employees.
  • Always send two officers on outside transports or a chase vehicle. (Staff shortage is an issue, but officer safety is a bigger issue.)
  • Do not allow medical professionals to dictate security procedures. Our job is to ensure the safety of all.
  • Assign an administrative officer to run practice routes to all your outside medical facilities and document travel times and safest routes for officers to use.
  • Consider alternate routes to use so the same route is not used every time.
  • Find locations at outside medical facilities that have hospital security at the entrance to provide added security.
  • Never isolate yourself from main security entrances or medical facility security cameras. Isolated areas place you in danger.
  • Stop, look and listen before getting out of the transport vehicle.

Critical Situations that can Occur During Prisoner Transport

When preparing to set up your scenario-based training, here are some real incidents that have occurred and will occur again. Be prepared ahead of time through real-world training and knowing your agency’s policy and procedures for how to respond to these situations:

  • Inmate medical emergency during transport: Is it real or fake?
  • Escape attempts from inside the transport vehicle.
  • Escape attempt by outside ambush.
  • Family members or friends showing up at destination point.
  • Leaving an inmate behind in transport vehicle. This has happened, so train to search the transport vehicle before and after each prisoner transport.
  • Inmate contraband (search inmates and transport vehicles for contraband before and after each prisoner transport).
  • Search transport vehicle for broken off seatbelts, plastic or metal as inmates use these as weapons.
  • High-profile inmate where the media surrounds you.
  • High-profile inmate where an angry mob surrounds you.
  • Family member shows up at your outside destination with a gun. This will require cool heads, split-second thinking and good communication skills.
  • Confronting deadly threats (train with holster drills and reactionary drills).
  • Vendetta attacks (you are transporting a child molester and the victim’s family finds out).
  • Court transports.
  • Medical transports.
  • Jail to prison transports.
  • Prison to jail or court transports.
  • Transporting mentally ill inmates.

These are just some ideas to get your training started. Use your frontline officer’s experience to assist your training center with hundreds more situations that can and will arise during prisoner transport.

Improving an Officer’s Knowledge

Scenario-based training is designed to help improve an officer’s knowledge and reaction time when confronted with an emergency situation. This real-world training, along with knowing departmental policy and procedure, will lead to a safer environment for everyone during prisoner transports. We must never forget that inmate transport is the weakest link in our inmate chain of custody. Stay safe and train for success.

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.