Private Prisoner Transport Vans Deny Detainees Food, Bathroom Breaks

The detainees are told to relieve themselves in bottles or on the floor of the van. The journey can become life-threatening for people with medical conditions.


Three United States private prison transportation services are being sued after a man claimed he and other detainees were extradited to another city in the most inhumane conditions.

In September 2016, Edward Kovari, 39, was detained by a Virginia police officer who claimed his 2005 Pontiac sedan was reported stolen in Houston.

Turned out, the report was false.

However, before that was determined, Kovari was already charged on a fugitive warrant, arrested and extradited to Houston — and in for a nightmare of a ride.

Shackled so tightly the chains left marks on his body, Kovari was pushed inside a private prison transportation van, along with around 15 other detainees. The confines became so jam-packed that Kovari had to lie on the floor with other detainees’ feet on his abdomen.

According to the lawsuit, they were also denied adequate water and fed only fast food infrequently — which gave them upset stomachs and heartburn — throughout the 18-day journey. Nor were they given bathroom breaks and drivers told them to either relieve themselves in bottles or on themselves. The floor of the van soon became filthy with urine, feces and vomit — and the prisoners had to suffer sitting in their own filth in the sweltering van.

Kovari also alleged he was not allowed to walk, stand or move in any way, sometimes for as much as 12 hours. His head would often bump against the steel wall of the container he was in whenever the van swerved and he lived in constant, agonizing pain that prevented sleep for most of his journey. 

The Houston man was also not given his daily hypertension meds and he began to feel sick three days into the journey. His blood pressure spiked and he became nauseous, dizzy and disoriented. When he pounded on the wall and begged for medical attention, the officers told him to be quiet “or we’re going to taze you,” according to the lawsuit.

When the van finally reached Houston, Kovari was covered in his own waste and unable to walk. His blood pressure was also higher than 200.

Once the authorities realized he was innocent and released him, Kovari filed a lawsuit against U.S. prisoner transport Brevard Extraditions, Prisoner Transportation Services of America and Prisoner Transportation Services, the U.S.’s largest for-profit extradition company.

The lawsuit claimed such journey can be extremely risky, even life-threatening, for people with medical conditions. What’s worse, if a detainee does get sick, Prisoner Transportation Services workers are not trained in medical emergencies. In fact, they routinely tell drivers to ignore detainees’ requests so they don’t end up behind schedule.

The Prisoner Transportation Services was already under another investigation before Kovari’s arrest, according to a nonprofit news organization, Marshall Project.

Robert Downs, COO of Prisoner Transportation Services, previously told the agency, “Unless it’s life or death, we can’t open the cage on the vehicle… We don’t know if they’re setting us up for something.”

The companies task their drivers to pick up as many detainees as they can cram into a van, regardless of where they have to be dropped off, in order to save money. It is not uncommon for detainees to be locked inside the dark, sweltering metal cage for weeks on end as states are increasingly outsourcing prisoner transport to private companies as they reportedly provide the service for less money.

According to the Marshall Project, at least five detainees have died on such vans because of medical neglect. Some two dozen have died or sustained serious injuries in over 50 crashes involving private extradition vehicles since 2000.

Prisoner Transportation Services’ President Joel Brasfield has denied allegations of neglect and mismanagement previously.

Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS, Lucy Nicholson

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