Unsupervised prisoners on public transportation

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - In a WMBF News Investigation, we uncover the Federal Government is giving incarcerated prisoners a one way ticket for a bus or plane, without any supervision. Shockingly, they aren't telling the drivers, pilots or the public when it's happening.

For many commercial bus riders, they had never heard of this practice until WMBF News approached them on the streets.

"That makes me very nervous to even have my purse on the bus with me," says Misty Kain.

Over the last three years, the Federal Bureau of Prisons admits it transferred 90,000 active inmates unescorted on commercial buses, taxis and planes. Meaning no handcuffs, no guard and no supervision.

"You don't know who's sitting next to you or who's behind you. You don't know what could happen to you. You never know what's going through someone's head," says Kain.

While a majority of the inmates are being transferred to half way houses and are close to their release date, there's also a smaller percentage, still thousands each year, who are transferred on good faith to minimum security facilities.

The Bureau of Prisons assures the public this is a "safe, secure, humane and cost efficient" way to get inmates from facility to facility.

For first time mom India, she doesn't see it as safe or secure.

"I'm already scared that I'm alone and then to know that somebody that's been in prison is being transported on the bus and it could be anybody. That scares me more," she confides.

Retired corrections officer Artie Linquito says although it may be saving money, we are paying for it in a false sense of security.

"I think putting private citizens in danger just to save a buck is ridiculous. I mean, up north we did all of the transportations. We had our own buses, our own vans, armed escorts and had two chase cars," says Artie Linquito. "One in the front, one in the back. Even if they were going to a halfway house, we had chase cars. We made sure nothing happened."

With 20 years on the job, Linquito's seen a lot over the years and says there's no telling what will cause someone in a desperate situation to snap.

"We had a guy try to take over the van, he's shackled," he recalls. "See, when we transported they were waist shackled, but we still had a guy try to grab another officer's gun. Now these guys aren't shackled with no security. Anything could happen."

Greyhound denies knowing when prisoners are being transported on its buses in a written response from the company:

"Greyhound is typically not notified when the state or federal government places someone on a bus and is unaware of the frequency in which prisoners might be transported."

The company goes on to write:

"Greyhound's policy is that we will not knowingly transport any individual who is still in active custody. This includes transporting individuals who are being transferred from one facility to another."

The American Bus Association isn't too thrilled either. It fired off a letter to the Bureau of Prisons in 2009 saying in part, "It is unfathomable that your agency would engage in such a practice at all."

The ABA asked the Bureau of Prisons to stop its transportation methods immediately. Three years later, it's still going on.

So you have to wonder what's keeping these inmates from walking off the bus and off the grid. Inmates like Dwayne Fitzen, a convicted cocaine dealer, scheduled to go from Minnesota to California in 2004, hopped off a bus in Las Vegas and hasn't been heard from since.

Or Alvin Lewis. This counterfeiter was a no show in California after leaving his prison camp in Tennessee. He's still MIA nearly a decade later.

"They have prison transportation buses for a reason and that's what they should be using to take them to other facilities," stresses bus rider Misty Kain.

The Bureau of Prisons says that less than 1% of the inmates who are given these one way tickets fail to show up where they're supposed to. According to data from 2011, of the nearly 32,000 inmates transferred unsupervised, 83 simply walked off the bus never to be seen again.

"So these guys just disappear. Unless you know exactly who he is, where his relatives live at to track them down, these guys are gone," says Linquito.

Prisoners are warned that any attempt to escape will result in additional time on their sentence, but of course that's only if they get caught.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.