The United States Marshals Services' Management of the Justice Prisoner
and Alien Transportation System
Audit Report 07-01
Office of the Inspector General
Successful transport of prisoners and aliens requires coordination among all the parties involved in JPATS operations. As part of this audit, we assessed the adequacy of coordination at two levels. First, we examined whether JPATS has a mechanism for coordinating all participating agencies at an administrative level to ensure that the concerns of all parties are addressed. Second, we interviewed officials at JPATS and participating agencies to identify issues that might result in interruptions to the prisoner and alien transportation process.
The JEC serves as the primary means for participating agencies to meet and discuss matters of mutual interest. Created in 2000, the JEC replaced its predecessor, JPATS Advisory Committee, which had similar functions. As mentioned previously, the JEC meets on a quarterly basis and is presided over by DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for Administration. Members of the JEC include the Assistant Director of the USMS for JPATS, the Detention Trustee from the OFDT, and three members each from the USMS, the BOP, and ICE. The JEC provides oversight on the operations of JPATS and reviews significant decisions on the program. Each JEC member has one vote, although the chairman has veto power.
Several subcommittees of the JEC allow the participating agencies to address particular aspects of JPATS’s operations and recommend changes to the programs. These subcommittees are as follows:
Of these subcommittees, the JPATS Working Group is the most important because of its overall role in reviewing and submitting operational recommendations to the JEC for discussion at its quarterly meetings. In addition to the subcommittees, JPATS management conducts weekly conference calls to address operational issues with representatives from the principal customer agencies.
While these forums allow participating agencies to raise issues and concerns, some JPATS officials have expressed concerns about the JEC. For instance, the current voting structure of the JEC favors the customers more so than the JPATS management. The reason is that JPATS is represented at the JEC by its Assistant Director who has one vote; by contrast, the three customers — the USMS, the BOP, and ICE — have three representatives each, everyone of whom has one vote for a total of nine votes. This configuration favors the customers but cripples JPATS whenever it proposes changes that the customers may deem unfavorable. As a result, one JPATS management official told us that the subcommittees and the voting structure have the potential of clogging the decision-making process and diluting the authority of the JPATS Assistant Director.
We noted an example of such adverse effects in JPATS’s attempt to restructure its security crew. As already mentioned in our testing on the adequacy of the security crew, OIG’s May 2005 audit report 05-13, United States Marshals Service’s Use of Independent Contractors as Guards, recommended that the USMS expand the use of guard company contracts as a way to address the difficulties of using individual contract guards. JPATS officials stated that they have explored this option and identified a guard company that would charge $2.4 million a year for a regional contract, or $3 million for a national contract. When JPATS presented these options at a JEC meeting, customers voted against this alternative.
Proper Intervention by the JEC
Our audit found that the JEC intervened appropriately in 2005 when the USMS did not communicate changes in its operations that affected other JPATS customers. According to the memorandum of understanding related to the JPATS revolving fund, the former INS, the BOP, and the USMS agreed “to provide the most accurate estimates of transportation requirements possible and update those estimates whenever new information is available.” As a result of a budget rescission, the USMS decided in January 2005 to reduce its original estimate of 1,850 flight hours for FY 2005 by 150 for the transport of prisoners using JPATS’s large aircraft. Significantly, the USMS did not communicate this change through the JEC and instead addressed the change directly with JPATS.
Because JPATS typically transports USMS and BOP prisoners on the same aircraft, the reduction of USMS flight hours affected BOP operations in the following ways:
Fortunately, the BOP was able to transport all inmates scheduled for movement despite the reduction of flight hours because it had contingency plans in place. Nevertheless, the JEC held meetings in early 2005 to address the communication issues within JPATS. The participating agencies were reminded of the importance of keeping all parties informed of any significant changes such as updating the projected flight hours. As stated earlier in our discussion on JPATS’s revolving fund, the USMS honored its previous estimates of planned flight hours by reallocating funds from travel, training, and quality step increases in order to maintain the level of flights at previously agreed-upon levels.
At the outset of our audit, the BOP and ICE maintained liaisons at JPATS headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, to facilitate coordination on transportation issues directly with JPATS’s Scheduling Section. At the same time, these liaisons served as experts on transportation policies and issues affecting their agencies.
The USMS did not have a similar point-of-contact at JPATS headquarters until early 2006. Having a liaison from the USMS at JPATS may seem superfluous since JPATS is a program within the USMS. However, as discussed previously, JPATS operates from a revolving fund contributed by its customers and receives executive guidance from the JEC, a coordinating body chaired by the Assistant Attorney General for Administration. Consequently, JPATS is an organization with some measure of autonomy from the rest of the USMS. Therefore, the concept of a USMS liaison at the JPATS headquarters would include having that individual work to resolve any difficulties between JPATS and the rest of the USMS when transporting prisoners.
The JPATS Chief Inspector of Operations stated that in the absence of a designated liaison he has assumed that role for the USMS. However, he conceded that he had generally been too busy with his JPATS duties to focus specifically on issues affecting the USMS. Moreover, we were unable to identify any official at USMS headquarters whose responsibility was to address the USMS’s overall transportation issues. USMS district offices typically call JPATS headquarters directly on matters of concern and do not rely on a central point of contact at the USMS. One USMS budget official informed us that the agency had unsuccessfully attempted to seek funding for such a liaison position. However, in late 2005 the USMS announced the vacancy of a liaison at JPATS by reallocating one of its headquarters positions. The selected individual, a former JPATS employee, entered on duty in January 2006.
Initially, we had concerns because we were informed that the USMS liaison would report to both the USMS and JPATS. The dual reporting status raised issues of independence and whether the liaison would represent the USMS’s issues and concerns. As of April 2006, JPATS management stated that the USMS liaison would no longer report to JPATS but to the USMS exclusively.
JPATS utilizes the BOP Federal Transfer Center (FTC), located at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to house prisoners on a temporary basis while they are in the process of being transported around the country. During our review, we found that this facility was operating at full capacity in the summer of 2005 with 1,350 male inmates and 118 female inmates. The average length of stay for these prisoners was 12.5 days in FY 2004 and 10.3 days in FY 2005. According to JPATS management, there is no benchmark for how long a prisoner should stay at the FTC. Because the facility operated at full capacity, the lack of bed space affected JPATS’s ability to transport prisoners, especially those that required layover housing.95
Insufficient bed-space at the FTC to provide lodging for BOP or USMS prisoners does not necessarily mean that JPATS cannot transport prisoners. Rather, JPATS operations become less efficient and more costly when overnight housing is lacking. Specifically, if JPATS does not have access to beds for housing prisoners overnight, it cannot group prisoners destined for the same location on a single flight and thereby take advantage of economies of scale.
As a short-term solution, the OFDT worked with the USMS to obtain an agreement with a local county correctional facility that had an additional 240 beds available. According to a JPATS official, a long-term solution would be to contract with additional correctional facilities, preferably one on each coast. JPATS could then house prisoners who need to stay at these layover facilities on a short-term basis, similar to the FTC, as they complete their itinerary.
Although the short-term solution resolved the problem of insufficient bed space for in-transit prisoners, we believe that JPATS, in coordination with the JEC and the BOP, should establish a benchmark for the length of layover stays at the FTC. Furthermore, JPATS should work through the JEC to examine how it can help reduce the length of stay for in-transit prisoners being housed at the transfer center.
Coordination with BOP Institutions
One common issue affecting the use of the BOP Federal Transfer Center occurs when BOP institutions cannot accept prisoners as originally planned. In June 2005, for example, 35 prisoners at the FTC were scheduled to leave for a BOP institution on the west cost aboard a JPATS flight. Two days before the departure, the BOP notified JPATS that only 20 of the 35 inmates could be accepted at the destination. Because JPATS serves this destination every two weeks, the remaining 15 prisoners had to be kept at the FTC for another two weeks. This change of plans caused concern because the FTC and the nearby county jail had already reached full capacity, which, in turn, meant that JPATS was unable to accommodate additional prisoners who would require a layover at the transfer center.
Occasionally, such unexpected changes occurred after a prisoner has already departed on a JPATS flight. In June 2005, a prisoner was reassigned to another BOP institution after he had already left the transfer center on a JPATS flight. The BOP had intended to fly the prisoner back to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for redesignation, but the prisoner complained of pain from kidney stones upon arrival at the original destination. Because the prisoner had already been reassigned, JPATS had to coordinate with BOP officials to devise an alternative for this passenger. We learned that local BOP officials assisted the prisoner so he could receive medical care and he eventually arrived at the intended institution.
Not all such coordination issues involve the FTC. In April 2006, JPATS scheduled movement of 45 prisoners from one BOP institution to another in the same state. Because of insufficient bed space, the BOP institution receiving the inmates notified JPATS on the Monday before the Friday flight that only 16 prisoners could be accommodated. As a result, the remaining 29 prisoners had to stay at the originating institution indefinitely until spaces become available.
We found that JPATS generally worked with the BOP liaison and a contract advisor at the OFDT – a former BOP official – when unusual transportation problems for prisoners occur. According to this OFDT advisor, the policy of the BOP is to accept all prisoners unless an official moratorium has been declared by BOP headquarters. A moratorium at a BOP institution may be declared for 90 days when that facility is full, under renovation, or experiencing a medical issue. While we believe that coordination occurred among JPATS, the BOP, and the OFDT in resolving these unexpected interruptions, a more systematic approach may help identify the underlying causes. For instance, a database may be developed to record and archive these occurrences: locations and circumstances of the interruptions, and actions required to resolve them. Analysis of this information may reveal patterns or root causes of these disruptions and point toward possible solutions to reduce future occurrences.
JPATS requires all prisoners and aliens to have a properly completed Medical Summary/Transit/Alert Form (Form USM-553).96 This document serves as evidence that the passenger has been properly screened for all possible medical issues and will not pose health risks to others inside the aircraft. Currently, U.S. Public Health Service flight nurses examine the medical clearance of passengers and perform on-the-spot screening of passengers who arrive without adequate evidence. If the passengers fail the screening, JPATS may deny them boarding. In addition, the flight nurses ensure that the passengers have any required medication.
U.S. Public Health Service flight nurses also compile the results of their medical screening and the number of prisoners or aliens denied boarding from JPATS flights. We tabulated the data provided by the flight nurses for FYs 2004, 2005, and the first quarter of 2006 for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Alexandria, Louisiana; and Mesa, Arizona in the following table.
PRISONERS OR ALIENS DENIED BOARDING DUE TO MEDICAL ISSUES
Initially, data in the table suggest that the transport of prisoners from the hub in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma poses a greater health risks than the transport of aliens from the Alexandria, Louisiana and Mesa, Arizona hubs. However, the U.S. Public Health Service flight nurses informed us that the higher number of medical denials for the transport of prisoners resulted from more stringent requirements at BOP institutions. In addition, the flight nurses stated that the institutional practices of ICE may account for, in part, the relatively few medical denials at the Alexandria, Louisiana and Mesa, Arizona hubs. Some aliens could have been brought to the airlift locations shortly after being detained by ICE officers. Consequently, many of the aliens have not been through any detention centers where the on-site medical facility would complete the medical screening forms. At one ICE Service Processing Center that we visited, the on-site infirmary administered tuberculosis screening tests only if the aliens were scheduled to stay for more than 12 hours. In the absence of adequate medical clearance information, the flight nurses perform on-the-spot screening of aliens to mitigate the health risks of JPATS flight missions.
2003 Medical Screening Incident
An extreme case of failed medical screening occurred in May 2003 when an alien did not pass an examination by the Public Health Service flight nurse. The alien arrived at the airlift location with two escorts from ICE. All three individuals wore masks and protective clothing. The flight nurse determined that the alien did not have the required medical clearance form and exhibited symptoms consistent with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
JPATS management, upon consulting with the ICE liaison and the Centers for Disease Control, directed the JPATS security crew to allow the alien on board the flight. However, the security crew refused to continue the mission because of the perceived health risk. To avoid further delay of the flight, JPATS continued without the alien, who was eventually transported by a commercial airline.
As explained in our discussion in the Budget Issues section, the original memorandum of understanding for JPATS’s revolving fund serves as the charter document that outlines the responsibilities of JPATS and its customers on financial issues. It also provides a mechanism to ensure that adequate coordination exists to ensure unimpeded operation.
For instance, the MOU requires the customers to provide the most accurate estimates possible of transportation requirements, and to update these estimates when new information becomes available. JPATS needs this information in order to correctly calculate the rate it charges customers. In addition, to ensure that the rate charged is accurate, JPATS holds a mid-year conference with its customers. At the conference, JPATS and its customers review the flight hours already used, as well as adjust the requirements for the remainder of the fiscal year. JPATS uses the updates to calculate a new rate for the upcoming months. As already mentioned in the discussion on the JEC, our review of this process revealed that the USMS unilaterally reduced its flight hours in early 2005 without prior notice to other customers.
Besides the mid-year conference, a Right-Sizing/Pricing Methodology Committee (Committee) was formed in May 2005 to coordinate participating agencies on financial issues. The Committee is chaired by the Detention Trustee, and membership includes representatives of JPATS, ICE, the BOP, and the USMS. The Committee’s purpose is to evaluate JPATS’s personnel structure and resources, as well as possible expansions to JPATS’s services.
Our audit disclosed mixed results regarding JPATS’s coordination with other agencies regarding movements of prisoners and aliens. We found that the JEC intervened properly in March 2005 as a coordinating body when it discovered an instance where the USMS did not communicate a reduction in its transportation needs to all involved parties. Besides the JEC, the liaisons from the major customer agencies provide a point of contact to resolve transportation issues at JPATS headquarters. Moreover, the lack of a USMS liaison was resolved in early 2006 when the USMS appointed a former JPATS employee to fill this position.
We recommend the USMS:
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