Escape Demonstrates Unreliability of Prison Transport

The prison transport industry not infrequently sees passengers bolt at rest stops or jump out of moving vans.

The prison transport industry not infrequently sees passengers bolt at rest stops or jump out of moving vans.

By Christopher Zoukis

On Aug. 22, a private extradition company’s van was relocating inmates to various midwestern institutions when two inmates, Andrew Foy and Darren Walp, overpowered one guard (the other guard was dozing). They relieved the guards of their cash, offloaded the pair and other prisoners, and took off in the company’s van.

The breakout occurred in northwest Oklahoma, and Foy and Walp, both in their 30s with impressively long criminal records, have eluded pursuers for several weeks. At large, they have been seen on a security camera enjoying cold drinks at a convenience store on the other side of the state, having arrived there in a tractor-trailer they somehow acquired. In their travels so far, they’ve also stolen and abandoned at least one other truck.

The prisoner extradition company involved in the escape, Inmate Services Corporation of West Memphis, Arkansas, transports inmates from state prisons and local jails, on trips that often meander cross-country. It is not luxurious transportation; over the past seven years, the company has been on the receiving end of at least 15 federal lawsuits claiming unsafe or abusive conditions.

The transportation service did not impress local law enforcement. One deputy sheriff in the Oklahoma county where the escape began said the van’s staff displayed incompetence that was “absolutely jaw-dropping.” For example, the guards were unable to remember the names of the two escapees, and could not even describe the van (which had been rented along the way, after the van in which they started the trip broke down). The guards were also vague on whether the stolen van had contained a handgun. Since an empty holster was discovered inside the company van when it was later found abandoned, police alerts described Foy and Walp as dangerous and likely armed.

While Inmate Services Corp. is a relatively small firm, even the largest prisoner transportation company, the Nashville-based Prisoner Transportation Services, has a similarly checkered performance. In the last five years, that firm has seen at least five prisoners that it was transporting die en route. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit criminal justice research and advocacy group, last year compiled a study of prison transport systems showing that since 2000 at least a dozen people have been killed, and an equal number seriously injured in more than 50 crashes. More than a dozen female inmates claim to have been sexually assaulted while being transported in the company's vans. The Marshall Project also claims drivers and guards in the industry are often ill-trained and overworked.

The prison transport industry not infrequently sees passengers bolt at rest stops or jump out of moving vans. Walp, one of the Oklahoma duo, unsuccessfully tried jumping out of a van 10 years ago while traveling from a Delaware jail to a hospital. Other stunts in his career include dumping a trail of a thousand bushels of corn along a Nebraska highway — the cargo of a truck he’d been hired to drive after learning he was being laid off. He left the vehicle’s back doors open as he drove off. He also scaled an exterior wall at a Toby Keith concert while waving a Confederate flag and shouting racial slurs at residents of an adjacent housing project. Perhaps, once he’s paid his debt to society, he might explore job opportunities in the prison transport industry.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.