A long, never-ending haul

Dana Simas, Public Information Officer

Every day dozens of CDCR buses carry inmates along California’s freeways and roadways. Many pass by without notice as they transport hundreds of inmates to and from institutions across the state.

It’s the job of CDCR Sgt. Christina Shephard in the Transportation Unit, a 22-year veteran of the department, to make sure the inmates get where they are scheduled to go.

Sgt. Shephard starts her Tuesday morning at CDCR’s transportation hub for Northern California at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy. Transportation officers move inmates of all levels – from reception center to maximum-security Level IV – to every institution across the state, from Pelican Bay to Centinela.

C R  Shephard Northern Transportation Hub

Sgt. Shephard of CDCR’s Transportation Unit.

The schedule is made by staff in the Transportation Unit at CDCR headquarters in Sacramento.

“It’s very busy,” Sgt. Shephard said. “It’s madness, but it’s a controlled madness.”

The officers in transportation have different schedules and some of the buses may run three- or four-day trips across the state. At the northern hub at DVI, there’s usually at least six scheduled bus runs per week. In addition to the long-haul movements there are also daily van movements to local institutions.

“It can be long hours, days even,” Sgt. Shephard said. “It can be hard on the family because you’re gone a few nights of the week, every week.”

For the overnight bus trips the officers must make it to the layover institutions to make sure the inmates are housed in a correctional facility for the night. During this time the inmates are processed and put in the correct housing for each inmate’s security level. The officers meanwhile stay in hotel rooms.

Then it’s off for another day of transporting inmates from one institution to another.

During the day, buses will make routine stops to allow CDCR staff to take a break, use the restroom, and eat. Inmates eat breakfast at the institution where they were housed overnight and provided a sack lunch to take on the bus.

Since of the buses have more than a million miles on them, the risk of breakdowns is high. In the summer some of the buses overheat trying to make the Grapevine grade in the Tehachapi Mountains on Interstate 5 or in the desert in Southern California.

If a breakdown occurs the officers contact the nearest transportation hub, which is DVI for Northern California, North Kern State Prison in Delano for central California, and California Institution for Men in Chino for southern California.

If the bus is not near a transportation hub, the closest institution is contacted. If the bus is not near any California prison then the officers contact outside resources for assistance, such as the California Highway Patrol or the local sheriff’s office.

Inmates do not leave the bus in the event of a breakdown. All of the buses carry a supply of water for inmates and some may utilize fans if the bus’ engine is out of commission and the air conditioning isn’t working.

Unexpected incidents can, and have delayed trips.

“We’ve had inmates have heart attacks while en route to an institution,” Sgt. Shephard said. “We’ve also had an inmate go into labor, and we had to pull the bus into a hospital.”

In one instance, Sgt. Shephard was traveling with an officer who had a heart attack while transporting inmates. The officer was able to recognize the symptoms and seek proper medical attention.

Several months ago a motorist accidentally ran into one of CDCR’s buses along Interstate 580. No one was hurt.

Even fights between the inmates can cause delays, although Sgt. Shephard said such incidents are rare.

“We’ve had a few fights, but since they’re restrained it’s not a full-fledged fight,” she said. “With as many miles as we travel, we really haven’t had too many issues (with inmates).”

The job is a long, never-ending haul for transportation officers, but Sgt. Shephard said it does have some benefits.

“You get to see the whole state of California,” she said. “You also get to interact with different staff that you wouldn’t meet or known by working in one place.”

Click here to see a previously published photo gallery on the Transportation Unit.

Click here to see a previously published story about the Transportation Unit.