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Untitled Document

Unescorted Prisoners Take the Bus

By Chuck Armsbury

Thanks to a little-known policy at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the guy sitting next to you on the bus could be a convicted felon. As part of a cost-cutting program, the BOP allows more than 25,000 prisoners each year to ride unescorted and unannounced between federal correctional facilities. At least 50 have escaped, including a drug dealer who is now considered armed and dangerous.

Traci Billingsley, a BOP spokeswoman, says that almost all of the inmates are traveling to halfway houses where they will come into contact with the public anyway. She adds that the other 6% of inmates are traveling to minimum-security facilities, most of which don't even have fences. Prisoners who will travel alone are screened to make sure they "pose no significant risk." Should federal prisoners be allowed to travel unescorted on public transportation? (56% answered 'yes,' and 44% voted 'no' in Parade poll -- RW Editor)

But bus-industry officials say that allowing prisoners to ride unescorted and unannounced on public transit does put passengers at risk. This spring, the American Bus Association (ABA) sent a letter to the BOP saying that the practice "imperils public safety" and demanding an immediate halt to the program. "The fact that this has been done and continues to be done in this kind of secretive way is very unsettling," ABA president Peter Pantuso says in his April 9, 2009 letter to BOP Director Harley G. Lappin.

"This letter hereby serves as notice that no ABA member bus operator will provide service to any unescorted prisoner -- under any circumstances," Pantuso insists. The BOP acknowledges that a small minority of the inmates it transfers via public transportation "fail to report to their designated locations" but insists that the cost savings is worth the risk.

RW Editor: Comments by mpb, posted online: 06/07/2009, illustrate a majority's understanding, "I thought the letter from the American Bus Association to the BOP regarding unescorted inmates utilizing public transportation to travel to other facilities was absolutely ignorant. As expressed by the BOP Public Information Officer, the inmates who are traveling are minimum security and often are entering halfway houses just prior to the termination of their sentence. Where do you think the inmates reside when they are released. They reside in your neighborhood, attend your church, participate in your community programs and various other things.

By utilizing public transportation for the inmates who are near to their release dates or transferring to a minimum security prison (where fences are non-existent), saves tax payers a significant amount of money. The ABA makes a point that during these times of public safety, Homeland Security...etc, the BOP should cease and desist their actions immediately. The ABA should really get their facts straight before they start throwing jabs. The BOP is not placing international terrorists on the buses to send them unescorted to another federal prison.

As an American taxpayer, I realize the benefit of the system the BOP is using. I would be more concerned about some of the other people (non-law-abiding), riding the bus than those who are monitored and have more to lose if they escape or commit another crime. For these reasons, I voted yes on your poll, as I noticed was the majority of the responses. Perhaps ABA Administration should rethink their comments and listen to the majority."

Source: Parade Magazine, May 31, 2009

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