May 11, 2010

Kiosks to ‘boost’ efficiency of Winnebago County jail

County wants to let inmantes purchase commissary items and also allow family member put money in the inmates account. Officers no longer need to handle the money.....

Kiosks to ‘boost’ efficiency of Winnebago County jail - Rockford, IL - Rockford Register Star

By Matt Williams
Posted May 10, 2010 @ 12:02 AM
Last update May 10, 2010 @ 12:03 AM
ROCKFORD — Ramen noodles, tortilla chips and nacho cheese dip are some of the most popular items purchased by inmates at the Winnebago County Jail.

But Sheriff Dick Meyers says corrections officers spend too much time — as much as 40 hours a week — processing inmates’ weekly paper commissary requests. It’s an expensive task, Meyers said, considering an entry-level jail guard earns about $665 for a 40-hour week.

The county is considering bids for a system that would allow inmates to purchase commissary items through an automated kiosk, similar to an ATM. Purchases would automatically be deducted from an inmate’s electronic account.

“We spend several hours a week putting together all the sheets to the 800 inmates for commissary, most of which is done by hand,” Meyers said. “In the jail, we want to keep a corrections officer in the hallways and the pods.”

Commissary required by law
The jail is required by state law to have a commissary allowing prisoners to spend their own money on everything from snacks to toiletry items from third-party vendors, said jail Superintendent Andrea Tack.

The county’s profits from the arrangement must be spent on classroom chairs, television and other items that benefit the inmate population.

The kiosk systems would be paid for with commissions from the commissary purchases, Tack said.

The jail processed about $540,000 worth of commissary purchases in 2009, with more than $190,000 going back into the jail.

The new commissary system also would allow family members and friends to be able to put money into an inmate’s account through a kiosk in the lobby area by using cash or debit and credit cards.

Similar changes will be made to the inmate intake and bond processes, which could save officers time and take money-handling responsibilities out of their hands.

Officers are currently responsible for counting and processing cash that a person has on them when they are arrested.

A pre-booking kiosk would allow the inmate to feed their money into the machine in exchange for a receipt for their record keeping.

“There are a lot of transactions going back and forth,” Meyers said. “We are not bank tellers, and once in a while we will make an honest mistake, especially with the volume of money we go through.”

Change to bond process
Bonding an inmate out of jail would become easier as well. Today only money orders are accepted by jail officials, but a kiosk would allow for cash and credit or debit cards, which would then electronically update the inmate’s bond status.

All money transactions would then be handled by the company that provides and maintains the machines, an added bonus that takes all liability off the county, Meyers said.

“It is taking the money-handling systems away from us and putting it into a more accurate system,” he said. “The company would bear the cost for any mistakes.”

Meyers is hoping the new system could be in place within the next couple months.

“This will be a tremendous efficiency boost to the day-to day operations of the jail,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Williams at [email protected] or 815-987-1389.

By the numbers: Jail commissary

40 Hours projected to be saved per week by switching to a new commissary system

801 Average of inmates lodged in the jail during 2009

$34,645 Annual salary for an entry-level corrections officer

$546,182.91 Amount inmates spent on commissary goods in 2009

$190,654.67 Commission earned by Winnebago County from those sales

Posted by staff at May 11, 2010 09:01 AM