What’s it like inside a prison bus?

Ever wonder what it’s like inside a prison bus? While they all look a little different, the common theme is dirty, overcrowded, and uncomfortable. Here’s a look inside a prison bus operated by a private, for-profit prison company.

A look inside a prison bus

Inmates transported in these buses are shackled, with their hands cuffed to a chain around their waist and their feet chained together. Sometimes a black box is put around the handcuffs to prevent a prisoner from moving their hands at all. It’s called being “black boxed” and it’s painful. You can’t eat, drink, or use the toilet properly — yet they will give you food and water and offer a toilet on the bus.

So, this video is not a true representation of what it’s like in a prison bus because we were just using it as a way to evacuate Tampa due to Hurricane Ian Sept 27, 2022.

Doing Time as a Sex Offender: Residency Restrictions for Sex Offenders

Numerous studies show that laws restricting where sex offenders may live have done nothing to make children safer, and experts say these proximity laws, as they`re called, have actually increased the chances a sex offender will reoffend. Here we take a look at the current status of sex offender residency restrictions.

Laws Restricting Where a Sex Offender Can Live

Many states have laws restricting where a sex offender may live, often being some arbitrary distance from places where children gather. See United States v. Rudd, 662 F.3d 1257 (9th Cir. 2011) (reviewing some of these laws). Probably the most notorious state for its sex offender laws is Florida, where a qualifying sex offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of any child care facility, park, playground, or school. Fla. Stat. sec 775.215(1). This distance is measured in a straight line from the person`s property line to the property line of those locations. New York`s law is similar but says that a sex offender may not “enter” school grounds, which it defines as 1,000 feet around the school`s property line. N.Y. Exec. Law sec 259(c)(14).

Some states, like FL, have a statewide sex offender residency restriction, but also allow local municipalities to create their own restrictions that exceed state law. For example, Florida has numerous counties where the residency restriction is 2,500 feet, or half a mile. See Pasco Co. Ords. 66-67, et seq.

Even where there is no statewide restriction, local ordinances might still limit where a sex offender may live. See, e.g., Doe v. County of L.A., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 200109 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2015) (L.A. County`s 300-foot ordinance), Valenti v. Hartford City, 225 F. Supp. 3d 770 (N.D. Ind. 2016) (explaining an Indiana city`s 300-foot ordinance).

The be clear, there is no federal 1,000-foot rule for sex offenders. With that said, federal judges may restrict where a person may (or may not) live while on supervised release. 18 U.S.C. sec 3563(b)(13). But this restriction must “further the purpose of the defendant`s supervised release” and be “no greater than necessary” in doing so. United States v. Hernandez, 510 Fed. Appx. 591 (9th Cir. 2013). Even if a federal judge imposes the same residency restriction of the state where the person will live, this is not a valid reason for supervised release purposes. The person might move to another state without a residency restriction, and that would make the judge-imposed restriction unreasonable. See United States v. Collins, 684 F.3d 873 (9th Cir. 2012).

Not Every Sex Offender Qualifies Under the Residency Restrictions

In New York, only level three sex offenders have the statewide 1,000-foot rule. N.Y. Exec. Law sec 259(c)(14). And in Florida, not every sex offense qualifies: The victim must be younger than 16, and the offense (even if out of state) must match those listed in the statute. Fla. Stat. sec 775.215(3).

Most states also limit the restriction to offenses that occur after the date the restriction is enacted to avoid an ex post facto violation, the part of the U.S. Constitution that forbids retroactive punitive laws. See, e.g., Does 1-5 v. Snyder, 834 F.3d 696 (2016) (declaring Michigan`s retroactive sex offender residency restriction unconstitutional).

Some states, but not all, also “grandfather” in sex offenders who were living in an area before the restriction was created, and some also don`t require a sex offender to move if a forbidden location pops up by their house. See, e.g., Fla. Stat. sec 775.215(2).

Being Homeless as a Sex Offender

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has voiced her concerns that residency restrictions on sex offenders can lead to homelessness, saying New York`s “within-1,000-feet-of-a-school ban makes residency for [sex offenders] practically impossible in New York City.” Ortiz v. Breslin, 142 S. Ct. 914 (2022) (statement of Sotomayor, J., respecting denial of certiorari). The Rudd court also had the same concerns about residency restrictions:

Research suggests that residency restrictions decrease employment opportunities for offenders and increase transience and homelessness.

To deal with homeless sex offenders because of residency restrictions, some state have turned to keeping them in prison until they can find suitable housing. Thankfully, courts have struck down such laws. See Ortiz (collecting cases). In states where sex offenders are allowed to be homeless, they are closely monitored. Fla. Stat. sec 1943.0435(b)1, 2 (requiring registry updates every 30 days for homeless sex offenders).

Moving or Traveling as a Sex Offender

The Supreme Court has held that moving to a location that`s not covered by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) is not a violation of federal law. Nichols v. United States, 578 U.S. 104 (2016). In that case, a sex offender moved from Kansas to the Philippines and the government charged him with failure to register under SORNA. The court, however, overturned the conviction because the Philippines wasn`t a “jurisdiction” under SORNA. Had he moved to another state and not registered, that would have been a SORNA violation.

But that`s federal law. Going back to Florida, the most restrictive state, the sex offender registry requires a 48-hour notice when someone intends to move to another state or country. If they change their mind, they must let the state know within 48 hours or it`s a second-degree felony (up to 15 years in prison). Fla. Stat. sec 1943.0435(7), (8).

A sex offender in Florida who wants to travel outside the country for more than 4 days, must let the state know “at least 21 days before” the date of travel, or “as soon as possible” if it`s sudden. They must provide departure dates and times, and flight or cruise information, plus the state notifies local authorities at the destination. Id. This means it may not be a violation of federal law to leave a state, like Florida, but it`s surely a violation of state law.

Sex Offenders Living with Others

People, even sex offenders, have a “fundamental right to familial association.” United States v. Wolf Child, 699 F.3d 1082 (9th Cir. 2012). In that case, the court held that a sex offender could live with his children, even though he wasn`t married to their mother.

But there are exceptions to the rule. In McClamma v. Remon, 561 Fed. Appx. 787 (11th Cir. 2014), the federal court of appeals held that the right to be with family is not an “absolute” right. The probation officer in that case had applied a no-contact rule for all children, including the sex offender`s own children. The court held that this didn`t violate any “clearly established” rule by the Supreme Court. However, in Doe v. Lima, 270 S. Supp. 3d 684 (S.D.N.Y. 2017), a federal court held in a similar case that a complete ban on a sex offender`s children, without less-restrictive alternatives, violated “well-established” law. Both of these cases are instructive on how to challenge such a restriction.

Residency Restrictions Increase the Risk of Re-Offense by Sex Offenders

It`s one thing to say that residency restrictions have proven to do nothing to protect children from sex crimes, but it`s quite another to say that these restrictions have been shown to increase the risk of a sex offender reoffending against a child. Justice Sotomayor cited some studies in her statement in Ortiz and made this point:

Scholars have explained that by banishing returning individuals to the margins of society, residency restrictions may lead to homelessness, unemployment, isolation, and other conditions associated with an increased risk of recidivism.

Citing even more studies, the court in Rudd extensively criticized the negative effect of residency restrictions on sex offenders:

There remains significant questions regarding the substantive reasonableness of residency restrictions, including whether they too stringently restrict where a defendant can reside, or whether they play a role in increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

More specifically, the Minnesota Dept. of Corrections looked at 224 sex offenses committed by sex offenders and found that not one of them would have been deterred by a residency restriction. [1] And when Jacksonville, FL, increased its residency restriction to 2,500 feet, a study showed it did absolutely nothing to curb sex offenses against children there. [2]

Public Support for Residency Restrictions on Sex Offenders

The public overwhelmingly supports residency restrictions on sex offenders, despite the mountain of evidence showing that they don`t do anything to protect children from sex offenses. In her book Sex Crime, Offenders, and Society, Professor Christina Mancini cites several studies she conducted with other scholars that showed 82% of Florida residents supported residency restrictions, and over 80% of Michigan residents supported them.

IN CONCLUSION, despite the fact that residency restrictions on sex offenders do more harm than good, the public embraces them and sex offenders must be aware of them. It`s critical that sex offenders understand these laws, lest they end up in prison.

Footnotes:

[1] G. Duwe, Residency Restrictions and Sex Offender Recidivism: Implications for Public Safety, 2 Geography & Pub. Safety 6, 7 (May 2009).
[2] Nobles, M.R., et. al, Effectiveness of Residency Restrictions in Preventing Sex Offense Recidivism, Crime and Delinquency, 58, 491-513 (2012).

Doing Time as a Sex Offender: The Best Prison Jobs for Sex Offenders in the BOP

Everyone in prison must work. Staff calls it “programming” and if someone refuses to work they get written up for “refusing to program.” In reality, it`s the prisoners that keep a prison running. They do everything from maintenance to plumbing to electrical work to laundry to food service, and so on. When the prisons went on lockdown during COVID-19, everything ground to a halt in the prisons because there were no prisoner-workers to run things.

What to Do on Arrival in Prison

So the first thing someone getting to a new prison should do is find a decent job. If you don`t find a job, staff will automatically assign you one — and it`s usually a job everyone hates: food service. You`ve got about two weeks to find a good job.

The best jobs are commissary work, medical orderly, and any of the “clerk” jobs as assistants to staff. However, these jobs are almost never given to sex offenders because staff saves them for the “stand-up” guys. That is, they save them for non-sex offenders.

Here`s how messed up this can be. At one BOP prison, they wouldn`t allow sex offenders to work in commissary. When thousands of dollars in postage stamps were stolen, they fired those guys and then hired another group of stand-up guys. When staff found holes in a wall where these guys would hide products they intended to steal, they fired them and then hired yet another group of stand-up guys. And so it continued. Maybe prison staff didn`t care since all of commissary is paid by prisoners buying stuff in commissary, even staff wages.

So when I landed at another prison after my custody level dropped again, I was surprised to see that commissary was run entirely by sex offenders! In fact, the sex offenders held nearly every decent job in the prison.

Sex Offenders Make Trusted Workers

Why such a different attitude toward sex offenders at this prison?

Well, commissary had a major theft problem with the stand-up guys, the same as the other prison I mentioned. But when they fired these guys, this time they replaced them with sex offenders. Boom! Theft problem solved. Next everyone knew, staff was hiring sex offenders to work all the coveted jobs there.

Staff at that prison realized that they could trust sex offenders. Who would`ve thought that hiring people who have almost all held careers before being locked up would make good employees? Well, at least one prison figured this out.

How to Find Out Which Jobs Accept Sex Offenders

I strongly suggest to sex offenders that upon arrival at a new BOP prison, they should immediately ask about jobs. Talk to other sex offenders and find out what`s available. Ask them about the “politics” with sex offenders working certain jobs. By this, I mean find out if there are certain jobs that simply won`t hire sex offenders and are saved for non-sex offenders. Don`t assume that a sex offender can`t work a certain job. Ask!

If you want to work in food service, great. Some people like the job because it`s busy and they get to eat better food (usually) and lots more of it. By you making the request for a job in food service, staff will likely treat you better than the guys who are forced to work in there. You`ll get the better shift and maybe even a higher pay grade.

The Pay Sucks!

And don`t plan on making a ton of money. There are four “grades” of pay: Grade 1 is 40 cents per hour, Grade 2 is 28 cents per hour, Grade 3 is 12 cents per hour, and Grade 4 is 8 cents per hour. By policy, 80% of the jobs at the prison are Grades 3 and 4, while only 5% are Grade 1. If you don`t have a GED, you won`t get more than Grade 4 pay. The good thing is that the BOP pays you to get your GED! The average worker in prison makes about $20 to $30 a month.

What Are the Best Jobs for Sex Offenders?

So what are the best jobs for sex offenders? Aside from the ones I just mentioned above, Education is a good place for sex offenders to work. This includes the law library and the leisure library, as well as working as a “tutor” for the GED classes. Each staff GED teacher hires their own tutors, so get with them if you want to do that job.

If you like to be outside, get a job working the “compound,” as it`s called. This includes lots of things, from picking up trash to landscaping. A compound job is rather easy to get and you can wander around the grounds doing very little, if you want. There`s also Facilities, which usually tolerates sex offenders, especially if they know how to fix things. Good at HVAC? You`ll get a solid job in Facilities. Plumbing? Same thing. Use your skills to your advantage.

There`s your top choices of jobs for sex offenders in the BOP, so get on it!

Dale Chappell is the author of the upcoming Insider`s Guide: Doing Time as a Sex Offender and has hundreds of published articles on post-conviction relief and sex offense issues.

Doing Time as a Sex Offender: My Surprise Visit to a Women`s Prison

Why was I dropped off at a women`s prison when I`m clearly a man and came from a men`s prison? All I can say is that private prisoner-transport services don`t hire the smartest people in the world. It was 4 am and the transport crew messed up and took me to a women`s prison up the road from my actual prison. Being one to never question someone who has a gun when I`m in handcuffs, I let it all play out — for a rather amusing ending.

This private prisoner-transport company, called U.S. Corrections (I think, though I do recall something about Prisoner Transport Services, or PTS, being involved at some point), was contracted by Florida to pick me up at a federal prison about four hours away for a hearing down in Tampa. It turned out that I`d served an illegal sentence years ago in Florida prison and the county court ordered a hearing to decide how to fix that little problem. More on that another day. Let me tell you about the trip.

These private prisoner-transport companies are notorious for transporting prisoners all over the country in what`s been described in court docs at “torture” and “inhumane.” Florida relies on them exclusively to transport its prisoners for all sorts of reasons. I fell into that mess because I was in federal custody and needing transport, even though I wasn`t in state custody anymore.

Although the prison was only four hours away from the county jail, the trip took 23 hours. Seriously. These companies don`t care about getting prisoners to their destination, and they weave all over the place picking up more prisoners to earn more money. They get paid by the body, not how fast they can get the body there. Some of the guys in the van with me had been sitting in there for over TWO weeks! In the same van.

Let me describe the van so you can get an idea of what it`s like. This isn`t a nice comfy ride with windows and all that stuff. It`s a typical cargo van but inside is a cage divided by a steel wall and benches on each side. That cage is then encased in a sealed box with no widows. There`s no light let in at all. Each bench can hold four people, but I found 12 guys in the van with some sitting on the floor. Everyone is shackled at their feet with their wrists cuffed to a waist chain.

Oh, and the A/C was broken. It was an oven in there (it`s Florida, remember).

U.S. Corrections and PTS both say they stop every two hours for food/water and a bathroom. That didn`t happen. They also say they stop every 48 hours to let the prisoners shower and sleep at a county jail. The guys in the van said that didn`t happen, either.

But this isn`t about how god-awful these private prisoner-transport services are. That can and will be its own post one day.

Let me tell you how I ended up at a women`s prison. If you haven`t noticed by my picture, I`m clearly a male. Somehow, there was a mix up.

When the transport worker opened the van door, I saw it was the women`s prison and told the guys in the van with me, “Don`t say anything. Watch this.” The transport worker let me out and said to the woman at the receiving area, “I`ve got one for you,” she responded, “Oh … really!” She pulled him aside and said something to him. He took me back to the van in a huff.

To add salt to his embarrassed anger, I told him that my prison wasn`t open yet and wouldn`t accept me until after 6 am. He laughed and said that was ridiculous because prisoners operate 24 hours. We ended up sitting in the prison parking lot for two hours waiting for it to open at 6 am so I could be let in. That was two hours of listening to this guy complain, but it was worth it.

Doing Time as a Sex Offender: No Braid Butter for a Bald Guy?

When I asked the CO at the commissary window for Braid Butter, he (a black man) looked at my bald, white head and said, “Oh really?!” I replied with all the seriousness I could muster, “Come on Mr. Snell, you know these clothes don`t iron themselves.” He laughed and gave me the Braid Butter.

If you`re not familiar with the stuff, Braid Butter is used by black guys (and some white guys) to get their braids started so they can grow dreadlocks. So for a bald, white guy to buy Braid Butter, the very wise Mr. Snell knew what was up: I had to pay a debt.

He was right. The guy who ironed my clothes for me requested a tub of Braid Butter as payment for his services. This small payment, maybe $3, was well worth it because it saved me time. Better: It allowed me to invest my time into other things that were more important to me.

That`s what`s called a “hustle” in prison: performing a service to make someone`s life better and receiving payment for it. Lots of guys in prison don`t get any money sent in “from the street” (that is, from family), so they pick up a hustle. Often, these hustles are benign, like ironing clothes or cleaning rooms for people. Staff generally look the other way with these hustles, and it`s the harmful hustles that get the most attention from staff. This includes selling drugs, selling sex, gambling, etc.

Staff also gets involved when people don`t pay their bills because it leads to fights and people “checking in” by going to the SHU (special housing unit) so they won`t get beat up for not paying their tab. This eats up staff`s time and, my God, don`t force a BOP employee to do extra work!

While all hustles are forbidden by BOP policy, they`re a way of life in prison for most people. It`s unlikely someone will make it through even the shortest prison sentence without playing part in some sort of hustle. Considering that the BOP requires prisoners to work and only pays 8 or 12 cents an hour, and considering that a bar of Dial soap is $1.40 on commissary, a hustle can be a necessity for some.

The advice I give to people entering prison is to choose your hustle wisely. The wrong one could end up costing you more than it`s worth. The right one, however, could be a source of pride and accomplishment. Sex offenders are often educated and have usually held careers before being locked up, the typical sex offender is a college-educated 40 year-old white male. I suggest that these guys focus on their strengths and help others. These kinds of “hustles” not only help bring in some commissary items, but can help gain respect from the non-sex offenders in prison.

Just don`t over-promise something and you`ll do just fine.

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