San Diego Union Tribune

May 27, 2005

Inmate transport policy 'reckless,' Biden says

By Joe Cantlupe

WASHINGTON – A key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to explain why the Federal Bureau of Prisons puts some dangerous prisoners on commercial buses without an escort when it transfers them between distant prison facilities.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., described the program, highlighted this week in The San Diego Union-Tribune, as a "reckless approach to public safety."

"I simply cannot comprehend the rationale for this program," Biden said in his letter sent last night to Gonzalez.

Justice officials could not be reached for comment.

Biden reacted to disclosures in the Union-Tribune that an inmate on the furlough program escaped and is now a fugitive considered "armed and dangerous" by the U.S. Marshals Service.

The inmate, Dwayne Fitzen, had been serving a lengthy sentence after his conviction in 1992 of drug charges in Idaho.

He was allowed into the "voluntary surrender" furlough program earlier this year. Fitzen was supposed to check himself into California's Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution after his transfer from a Minnesota prison.

Instead, Fitzen got off the bus in Las Vegas and escaped, officials said.

The Union-Tribune article also revealed that other inmates in the furlough program have escaped.

A prosecutor who won a conviction against Fitzen described the policy as "beyond comprehension."

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, commenting on the Fitzen escape, said the agency "conducts a thorough review of the inmate's case."

The voluntary surrender program was started in the 1990s as a cost-saving policy for the Bureau of Prisons, officials said.

Biden, in his letter to Gonzalez, said that "any cost savings are certainly offset by the numerous manhunts that have been undertaken to re-capture convicts who have escaped under this program."

But bureau officials have declined to discuss the program or provide information about the number of prisoners who travel alone by bus or the number who have escaped. The bureau's Web site states that prisoners usually can't take a bus unless they have less than two years remaining on their sentences.

Under the bureau policy, before convicts leave on their journeys, they must sign a letter promising they won't try to escape. If they do run, an additional five years could be added to their sentences.

"Knowingly releasing convicted felons based upon their promise to return seems to be a reckless approach to public safety," Biden said in the letter.

»Next Story»