Private firms under scrutiny after Okla. escape

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The escape of eight inmates from an unattended van in Oklahoma highlights problems with private prison transport companies that don’t face the same scrutiny as state corrections systems, officials said Wednesday.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie told The Associated Press that if the transport van belonged to the state’s prison system, the offenders would never have been left unattended.

“It’s DOC policy: You don’t leave them out of your sight,” Massie said Wednesday.

State corrections policy also maintains that during any transport “all offenders will be considered high risk” and the transporting officer “will not stop the vehicle for any unnecessary purpose.”

“I’m just glad they weren’t our prisoners,” Massie said.

The inmates escaped Tuesday after guards employed by Prisoner Transportation Services of Nashville, Tenn., had stopped in Weatherford to deliver one or two sick inmates to a hospital. Guards left the inmates alone in the van, with the keys inside, and two prisoners kicked out a partition and moved into the front of the van.

All eight prisoners were back in police custody by late Tuesday and are being held in the Weatherford city jail until the Nashville company sends a replacement van to pick them up, Assistant Police Louis Flowers said Wednesday.

The owner of the transport company declined comment Wednesday on his company’s policies.

Police said the van traveled about a mile before stopping. Two inmates ran away while the other six stayed nearby. Officers recovered a 12-gauge shotgun that had been inside the vehicle. No injuries were reported.

Critics of private prison transportation companies have complained that they are poorly regulated.

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