She sat hunched in a compartment close to the front of the van, called the birdcage, inches faraway from a handful of other detainees, all men, who she says made lewd comments and attempted to stick their fingers thru the grate to the touch her. Men urinated in bottles between the rare bathroom stops.
It didn’t look like matters may want to get worse.
Then, at a forestall in southern New Jersey, 350 miles from her home in Massachusetts, one of the guards pulled Smith apart, out of view of the relaxation of the detainees and the alternative shield. She changed into handcuffed on the waist, shackled on the feet, while she says he slipped his hand under her waistband.
“It became simply probably the maximum demeaning, degrading element that’s ever [been] carried out to me like that, in a scenario in which I genuinely cannot do whatever about it,” Smith says. “And so at that factor I became simply mentally crushed.”
Smith is her final name; WBUR doesn’t fully discover sufferers of sexual attack without their consent. The protect is now going through crook sexual assault fees in New Jersey. Smith has additionally filed a federal lawsuit in opposition to the protect and his company, Nashville-based totally Prisoner Transport Services of America, or PTS, looking for unspecified damages.
Smith changed into arrested and taken returned to Massachusetts after violating her probation and touring to southern California, wherein she says she went for drug treatment.
State personnel do not normally move probation violators throughout the u . S . A .. Instead, Massachusetts, like many different states, contracts that task to non-public prison delivery companies like PTS.
The Massachusetts Probation Service has tapped PTS to move extra than 460 adults because 2015. PTS and its subsidiaries accrued extra than $1.3 million inside the closing 10 years from Massachusetts, typically from the probation and parole departments.
PTS says it’ll flow 26,000 detainees extra than 6 million miles this 12 months.
“We cross the greater mile to make certain staff and detainee protection every step of the way,” the organisation says on its internet site.
Concerns Raised About PTS Before
The harrowing journey Smith defined is no longer particular.
A report from the New York Times and the Marshall Project in July 2016 — numerous months after PTS had custody of Smith — exact deaths at the vans, and sexual assault, abuse and overlook dedicated via PTS guards. At least five humans have died on PTS extradition vans considering that 2012, the Marshall Project reports.
Reports like those led Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and two of her congressional colleagues to call for solutions from PTS. In a February 2019 letter to PTS’ president, the participants of Congress requested records about how the company continues detainees secure, as federally required. They also asked how many detainees in PTS custody have died, or been injured or sexually abused.
In reaction, PTS’ president, Joel Brasfield, didn’t say what number of humans have been harm or abused in the business enterprise’s care. Instead he wrote that “[t]ransporting prisoners is an inherently tough commercial enterprise” and certain how PTS has “taken a management function in trying to enhance the enterprise standards of prisoner transportation.” He listed numerous “great practices” PTS encourages governments to consist of in contracts.
Some of those first-rate practices could have benefited Smith — like at least 3 operating video cameras, heating and air con, and more segregated detainee seating.
It’s now not clear that Massachusetts has required any of these best practices in its transportation bids. In its request for bids closing year, probation most effective certain that detainee shipping groups need to observe federal legal guidelines, be available 24/7, and “accommodate unique desires offenders” who have scientific, physical or psychological needs.
Brasfield and PTS didn’t reply to a couple of requests for comment from WBUR.
Massachusetts officers with each the probation department and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security — which oversees the parole branch — declined to touch upon using PTS, bringing up Smith’s civil lawsuit, even though no kingdom companies or officials are named in it.
And the civil attorney representing both PTS and the protect refused to reply questions while approached by a WBUR reporter at a hearing for the guard’s criminal case in New Jersey remaining month. (Because PTS did not reply to WBUR, it’s uncertain if the protect remains with the agency.)
The Alleged Assault
Smith shouldn’t were in Los Angeles in the first area. She become on probation, after serving time in Massachusetts on charges that she took a police officer’s gun from his closet at home. She ultimately pleaded responsible to theft of and unlawful ownership of a firearm, and changed into sentenced to 18 months in prison and 3 years probation.
Since leaving jail in 2014, Smith says she’s struggled with an opioid dependancy. And flipping thru the channels one night in 2015, she came throughout an ad.
“I turned into in reality watching TV one night time and a commercial got here on and it turned into one of these, ‘Do you or a loved one need help with substance use?’ or some thing like that, and so I referred to as the smartphone range and literally I was on a plane the next day,” Smith says.
She spent six weeks there, sober for the primary time in some time. She says she talked regularly along with her probation officer returned in Massachusetts, telling her in which she become and asking approximately transferring her probation out to California. She says the probation officer regarded happy she changed into doing well. (The department declined to remark.)
Everything regarded exceptional — till U.S. Marshals confirmed up in December. They arrested her on a warrant for failing to appear for a probation violation listening to.