Daring prison van escape raises concerns over industry safety

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WEATHERFORD, Okla. -- A daring escape attempt by two men from a prison transport van in Weatherford raises serious concerns about the safety of the prison transport industry.

Officials with the ACLU say there is very little oversight or regulation of the industry.

Because they're run by private companies, there's no way to know how many dangerous prison inmates are being transported on Oklahoma highways.

"Nobody's really watching these guys," said Brady Henderson with the ACLU.

Henderson says the prison transport industry has virtually no oversight.

"There's little if any accountability for the citizen," said Henderson.

The company responsible for the escape, Prisoner Transport Services, claims on its website to be the largest prisoner extradition company in the country.

Federal guidelines drawn up by the Attorney General's office do lay out minimum standards for background checks, training and hours of duty for transport employees, but enforcement is inconsistent at best.

"Companies can be penalized if they violate regulations, but there's no money for enforcement. No agency whose job it is to watch these folks," said Henderson. "Unlike a state or federal agency there's no way to have a chain of accountability."

Henderson says there's also not much state lawmakers can do to fix the lack of regulation because the industry is largely protected by the interstate commerce clause.

Transport companies are supposed to notify local law enforcement if they have a scheduled stop, but if they're simply driving through the state, they don't have to let anyone know.

Officials with PTS, which is based in Nashville, had absolutely no comment on the escape.

The PTS company has lost prisoners in the past. Back in 2009 they lost an attempted-murder suspect between Florida and Pennsylvania. That led to a search for the cuffed and shackled inmate.

In 1995 a shackled inmate escaped in September at Philadelphia International Airport while in the custody of a Prisoner Transportation Services guard and was captured a week later in Maryland.

The story about the escaped inmates in Weatherford, Oklahoma can be seen here:

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