The main responsibility of the correctional officer is to provide protection to the community from any inmate that is in their care. This includes when they are not in the confines of a jail. There will be times when a criminal has to leave their cell and go outside of the facility, such as for court appearances or an appointment at a medical facility or hospital.
Prisoner transport is a very important and dangerous task where the officer must remain vigilant. When a correctional officer has to provide security for an inmate who is being transported, they must ensure the safety of any medical professional and members of the general public that they may encounter.
Steps before Transport
Before any interaction with the inmate, the correctional officer must take several steps for verification. For example, in the case of a doctor’s appointment, detention staff will first confirm that there is one scheduled. At that time they will also obtain the name of the doctor and the address of the medical facility where the prisoner is going. Jail staff will then determine the best route to the appointment and will share it with the transporting officer. This is important to know in case something goes wrong, like vehicle trouble or if the correctional officer and inmate do not return in a proper time frame. Knowing the route can allow for backtracking, so patrol officers can try to locate the squad car or transport van.
Once the appointment has been verified, the next step is to confirm the identity of the inmate leaving the facility. The transporting officer will check the inmate’s file and look at the photos inside to familiarize themselves with the face of the prisoner they will be escorting. In a smaller facility you should already know who most of the inmates are, but in jails with thousands of convicts, you could work there for years and never interact with some prisoners who have been jailed for an extended period of time.
Finally, there will be a determination of the security level of the escort. Lower level inmates who are not considered dangerous are relatively simple to transport. However, if the prisoner is a high-security threat who will undoubtedly try to escape if the opportunity arises, then extra care is required. For risky transports, there may need to be two officers, or even one who is weapons certified. If one of the officers is armed, special care will be taken to ensure they are separated from the inmate and keep a safe distance while providing oversight of the prisoner. Jail administration will make the final determination on this matter.
If this transport is for a court appearance, the inmate will have the requisite paperwork and know the date and time they are to appear. If the need for transportation is a medical consultation, then the prisoner will only know that they have an appointment, but not when it occurs. The jail staff will do the scheduling and keep track of it, but they will not let the inmate know the details. This is done specifically for the security of the transport officer so the inmate cannot make plans to have family or friends attend his appointment and plan a possible escape. The inmate is notified one hour before he is to leave so he can clean up and prepare without giving much time to set anything up with people on the outside.
Lastly, the transport officer will secure their vehicle and ensure it is in fine working order and has enough fuel for the trip.
Once all the preparation work has been done and the transport vehicle is ready, it’s time to retrieve the inmate from their cell. They will be brought to the front booking area near the garage where the car is waiting. The transport officer will then conduct a pat search of the prisoner, making sure they are not hiding anything on their body or in their pockets. It is best for the officer to be thorough and not be shy about private areas — inmates will try to hide things in areas they think will embarrass the officers to check.
To prevent any further chance of the inmate concealing anything, officers will then have inmates change into a new uniform. At this point, the prisoner is ready to leave. If for any reason officers cannot begin the transport right away, they will not put the inmate back in their regular cell. They will place the inmate in a single cell so there can be no chance of them getting their hands on anything that could prove dangerous.
Right before the officer and inmate leave, the officer will place restraints on the inmate. Depending upon the inmate’s security classification, officers will either use standard shackles or higher security cuffs that restrict movement. These higher security cuffs require a special key and prevent an inmate from accessing the locking mechanism. It is important that all corrections officers properly know how to use police handcuffs.
Leg shackles slow movement and help curb the ability to run. To apply them, the prisoner will kneel on a chair and an officer will place the leg shackles on them with the key holes facing them. They should be tight enough so the officer can fit a finger between the shackle and ankle but no looser. Once the officer is satisfied that leg shackles are secure, it’s best to double lock them.
Belly bands are chains that go around an inmate’s waist that have handcuffs attached to them. They restrict the prisoner, allowing very little hand movement. To apply them, officers attach the bands so that they are snug but not overly tight. Cuffs are secured on the inmate’s wrists with the keyhole facing the officer. This will ensure that the officer can easily access them if, for some reason, they have to unshackle a hand. Like the leg irons, belly bands should be double locked. If the prisoner has physical disabilities, officers must use common sense in restraining them.
If the inmate does not want to go, officers should make it clear to them that if they decide to cancel, they will not have the opportunity to reschedule. Many times the inmate will stop being disruptive and choose to go, but if they still do not wish to attend the appointment, they should be put back in their cell and a call should be made to the medical facility to cancel the trip. The facility should be informed that this was the prisoner’s choice.
Transportation to Appointments
At the beginning of the trip, the prisoner will be placed in the vehicle. The officer should fasten their seat belt. The officer and prisoner will then leave the facility to begin the trip, with the officer making sure to follow the approved route to the appointment. Making small talk with the inmate is fine, but officers should not get too personal or share any information about the jail, their co-workers or anything that can be used against them. Also, officers should remember not to make any unnecessary stops for themselves or the prisoner. Unless it is a very long trip, the inmate should not need to use the bathroom or require refreshments. That can be handled upon arriving at the destination. Locate the proper entrance and park in the areas marked for law enforcement, if possible.
If the trip is for a court appearance in another jurisdiction, the officer should inform the bailiff upon arrival. The bailiff will then take custody of the prisoner and secure them in a holding area. Once all court proceedings have been completed and the transporting officers have received the paperwork, they will take custody of the inmate and begin the trip back to the jail.
If this escort is for a medical appointment, take the prisoner to registration and check in. Once that is complete, see if there is a private area in which to wait to see the doctor. If the officer must sit in the public waiting area, they should pick a secluded spot away from other people. Officers must remain alert at all times, watching to make sure the inmate doesn’t grab something they are not allowed to have.
Once escorted to an examination room, the officer and inmate will wait for the doctor. Officers must stay with the inmate at all times and never leave them alone. Stay in the room the entire time the doctor and nurses are there. If for some reason the doctor needs privacy, officers can leave the room but must remain right outside the door. Once the doctor is finished, the officer should go back in the room. If the doctor needs one of the restraints removed for some type of procedure, officers can comply, but they should make it clear that they must stay in the room from that point on. When the doctor has completed their task, re-apply the shackles.
Be aware that even with a prison or jail facility’s best efforts, friends and family members might still show up during the appointment. They are not allowed to make contact with the prisoner for any reason and are not allowed in the room. If they become a nuisance, they should be informed that the local authorities will be contacted and they could be removed and possibly charged with a crime.
If for any reason this medical trip turns into a hospital stay, then procedures will change. The officer should notify jail administration immediately. They are still required to stay with the inmate at all times and, at the very least, the leg irons should be kept on the inmate. If there are any procedures conducted on the prisoner, the officer should accompany them everywhere in the hospital. If for any reason the officer has to leave the room, they must get hospital security staff to observe the inmate until they return. Keep a daily log where all activities are recorded, similar to the logs kept at the jail. Remember to periodically check the restraints to ensure everything is secure.
Family will most likely find out the prisoner is hospitalized, but they are still not allowed to have contact with the inmate. If they insist on staying close, they will have to move to the waiting rooms. In the case of a life-or-death medical issue, the officer should use their best judgement as to how much contact the inmate should have with family members.
The transport officer is not allowed to leave until they are relieved, which will be scheduled by the jail’s supervisors. Officers usually work 12 hour shifts to provide round-the-clock coverage with the least amount of staff required. There is absolutely no sleeping allowed while on duty. When hospital duty is complete, the jail will arrange for transportation back to the facility. Once the new transporting officer shows up with a police vehicle, they will take custody of the prisoner.
Return from Appointment
Once the appointment is complete, the officer assigned should take all paperwork for the inmate. If the doctor needs to see the prisoner again, they should be told that the officer will contact the facility to set up the next appointment, so the inmate will not learn of the time of the appointment. Any medications or prescriptions will be retrieved by one of the nurses and brought to the officer in charge. If the prescription will take a while to be filled, the officer has the option of coming back later if the trip is short or getting a paper prescription that can be filled later.
After the appointment is finished, the officer will return to their vehicle and secure the inmate in the back. The same route must be followed back to the facility. If any issues arise during the trip and the transport vehicle becomes inoperable, phone the jail immediately and they will arrange for another officer to come. Do not try and fix the vehicle or allow anyone from the general public near the car.
Upon returning, bring the prisoner into the facility and begin taking the restraints off of them. The belly band comes off first, followed by the leg irons. The inmate will then get another pat search before they are placed back in their cell. Any paperwork pertaining to another appointment will be given to the jail supervisor and will be scheduled and put on the books for the next transport. Secure all new medication with the jail’s medical staff.
Whichever type of transport an officer takes, their foremost responsibility is maintaining control of the prisoner. Not only is this for the safety of the community, but it also helps provide access to services the inmate needs. Doing this type of work is hard and can be full of pitfalls. If the transporting officer always carries out the duty to the best of their ability, inmates will know they cannot get away with anything questionable in the officer’s presence. Once an officer gains that reputation, transporting prisoners will be safer and easier in the future.
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