The Transportation Division of the New York City Department of Correction is the lifeline of the department. The Transportation Division makes 323,000 annual prisoner transfers from the criminal courts to the four sentence institutions of the City, to the five detention institutions of the City, to the three Hospital Prison Wards of the City; to the New York State prisons,hospitals and mental health facilities; and to the recently-designated Narcotic Addiction Control Commission facilities.
The Transportation Division must provide for the movement of prisoners to coincide with the calendars of 114 courts at 17 different locations throughout the city. It is not only a turnover of this huge number of human beings that is involved; they must also provide for the transfer of food, supplies, and equipment to keep its twelve major institutions and court detention pens functioning.
To keep this operation functioning smoothly, the Transportation Division operates 203 vehicles ranging from prison vans, prison buses, dump trucks, panel trucks, ambulances, tractors, bulldozers, to passenger sedans. It has a staff of 137 uniformed Correction Officers, 16 Captains, and a Deputy Warden-in Command. Its 23 civilian complement includes motor vehicle operators, watchman, auto mechanics, machinists, electricians, tractor operators, and clerical personnel.
It operates a motor vehicle repair garage for the heavy maintenance and body repair of all motor vehicle equipment of the department at Rikers Island and operates its main dispatch garage at Berry Street in Brooklyn. In addition to utilizing its skilled officer complement in the maintenance of equipment, sentenced inmates receive valuable training in keeping the 208 vehicles running.
The Central Dispatch office at 100 Centre Street is in constant contact with all moving equipment and knows at every minute of the day where each driver is located. A running wall chart is kept of all movements. Each vehicle is equipped with two-way radios to expedite prisoner transfers and make special pickups as they occur.
In addition to keeping its own equipment functioning, the department makes use of trains and taxicabs in making transfers and hire Casser buses for upstate trips. Renting these Casser buses actually saves the City money as each one of these buses costs $75,000. Also the department doesn't have to handle the maintenance, storage and repair of these vehicles.
As one officer explains, "It is a unique division because you are always doing something different. No two trips are alike. Different problems are encountered each time because you are handling different types of prisoners, including murderers, larcenists, assaulters, and the criminally insane. Each one may react differently to a prescribed situation. Many times you may be the calming influence in an incident that could become serious, particularly when traveling on public conveyances. You must make instant decisions when emergencies occur."
The inmate is largely handled and treated with great consideration. However, a Correction Officer cannot lose sight of the fact that he is handling a prisoner who might at any moment present a security risk. Escape is always a paramount thought to guard against. Also many of the prisoners are highly disturbed people and may possibly react violently at any moment. Nevertheless, the Correction Officer cannot allow himself to become emotionally involved with the inmate on the basis of a bad past record. It is one of the prime reasons why Correction takes over the handling of prisoners immediately after arrest.
The Police Officer has necessarily become involved with the inmate in making the arrest, oftentimes under violent circumstances involving shoot-outs and other forms of resistance The Correction Officer who has not been so involved with the inmate can handle him with relative objectivity.
A Correction Officer also transports inmates on visits to seriously ill family members, on funeral details and, on occasions, to marriage ceremonies. Every Correction Officer assigned to the Transportation Division must have a Class II Chauffeur license which entitles him to drive anything from a passenger car to a tractor trailer. The Transportation Division also provides ambulance service for the department.
The Correction Officer assigned to the Transportation Division must have an intimate knowledge of court procedures, commitment papers and court orders when upon occasion an institution will not readily accept an inmate committed to them under an improperly made out or incomplete document. In such cases the Transportation Division must return such document to the court for proper reissuance of the commitment or court order.
The Commanding Officer of the Transportation Division, Deputy Warden Walter Ball, speaks highly of his men. "The men," he says, "are hard working and do a lot that people don't know about. They are not clock watchers and are often called upon to work far into the night after putting in a hard day. They are quick to respond in emergency situations and are the first to volunteer in helping other City agencies in using our vehicles during public demonstrations and other emergencies affecting the health and welfare of our City."
Deputy Warden Walter Ball is a veteran of 29 years of service with the department after having served two years with the New York State Department of Correction. He was appointed a Captain in 1948; Assistant Deputy Warden in 1956; and Deputy Warden in 1960. He has been in command of the Transportation Division for the past five years. He has a distinguished U.S. Army war record during World War Il with the Father Duffy Rainbow Division.
He is a member of the Professional Association of Public Executives; Father Duffy Chapter, Rainbow Division Veterans; Disabled American Veterans, Col. David A. Marcus Post; American Legion Brogan Post; Catholic Guild, Department of Correction; and the St. Joseph's Holy Name Society.
-- Thomas McCarthy, NYCHS webmaster