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10 best practices for prisoner escort

Follow these simple strategies to ensure both you and your prisoner are safe from beginning to end of the escort


Article updated on November 28, 2017.

Every day police officers escort prisoners from the arrest scene to the squad, from the squad to the jail, from the jail to court, and back again. Yet prisoner escort is an aspect of police officer survival that is often overlooked, with very tragic consequences. 

Correctional personnel move prisoners constantly inside and outside of the jail, to and from court, the hospital and prison. We do it so often without incident that we forget how dangerous and career-ending a prisoner escort “gone wrong” can be.

A CO holds a pair of handcuffs at San Quentin State Prison Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, in San Quentin, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A CO holds a pair of handcuffs at San Quentin State Prison Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, in San Quentin, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Nationally we have seen incidents during prisoner escorts where officers are injured or killed, prisoners escape, the public is endangered, and facilities face legal consequences and bad press. All of this adds up to unneeded job stress.

Let’s review some of the components that make up “tactical” prisoner escort procedures:

  1. Perform a background check. Check on the prisoner’s background/threat level along with destination along/route of travel prior to escorting the prisoner anywhere. Remember that a two-officer escort is usually safer (when both officers stay alert) than a single officer escort, because the officers can then apply the contact/cover tactic.
  2. Check restraints. The type of restraint used should be based on the prisoner’s threat level. Make sure that they are in working order. Remember that a leg-ironed prisoner is moved most quickly and efficiently if placed in a wheel chair.
  3. Properly apply restraints and double-lock if possible. Remember that handcuffs are temporary restraining devices that can be slipped if not applied properly. Handcuffs need to be “just snug,” while traditional leg irons need to be applied more loosely – especially if the prisoner is expected to walk during the escort. Don’t assume that a leg-ironed prisoner can’t run – inmates practice running with a short rope tied between their feet. I am not kidding – my department lost one this way.
  4. Conduct a thorough search of the prisoner. Search the prisoner properly for weapons, instruments of escape and other contraband. Remember that a thorough, complete search, including the crotch area and shoes, is needed to ensure the prisoner is not allowed to hide items that can be physically and legally dangerous to you.
  5. Evaluate the prisoner’s current physical condition/emotional state. Remember that the best place to stop a problem is before the escort begins. Trust your “gut” feelings and get more help prior to beginning the escort.
  6. Pay close attention to your prisoner. Once you begin the prisoner escort, while focusing on external threats, always pay close attention to your prisoner, what the prisoner is doing, and what your prisoner is focusing on.
  7. Stay close to the prisoner. Remember to walk behind the prisoner and adopt a “hands-on” approach to escorting a prisoner in order to avoid attempts by the prisoner to assault you, flee from youor fall down (which can lead to injuries to the prisoner and a “beef” for you).
  8. Watch for suspicious actions. Remember that you have to be watching to see a problem developing – tragic war stories often begin with these words, “I never saw it coming. . .”
  9. Recheck restraints. If the prisoner is ever out of your direct supervision/sight, search the prisoner again and check the restraints. Don’t trust others with your safety. You can’t check your prisoner or his/her restraints too often. 
  10. Remember danger zones. Most escape attempts occur near the end of the prisoner escort/transportation. You are starting to relax because you are almost safe while the prisoner is often getting agitated because s/he is almost back inside a secured facility. This is the most dangerous time. In addition, when taking off the restraints, don’t relax too soon. Officers can be assaulted after restraints are removed.

Follow these simple strategies to ensure both you and your prisoner are safe from beginning to end of the escort.

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