EATON — A dual-kiosk vending machine has been booked into the Preble County Jail this summer for inmates to use to request and receive commissary items.
“I think at first it’s fair to say we weren’t real wild about the idea,” said Preble County Sheriff’s Major Joe Renner. The sheriff’s goal for the system is to reduce paper-shuffle within the office and to increase profit for the office, as well as the manufacturers. “We’re not going to get rich off of it, we’re not supposed to get rich off of it,” said Major Renner. “We wanted to reduce our paper shuffle and we wanted to reduce employee time that it takes to do all of these things.”
Funds accumulated by the Sheriff’s Office are strictly to be used for the inmates in a “Commissary Fund,” according to Renner, for items such as uniforms, bedding, televisions, and other items inmates may need.
“So any increase in revenue just saves the taxpayers from buying that stuff,” Renner said. According to Renner, if the office had remained with their previous system, taxpayers would be footing the bill of the increase in commissary items, whereas in the new system, the inmates pay the difference.
Gateway GPS owns the system’s network, however, the commissary system, supplied by the Sheehan Brothers, is locally operated.
Commissary rates are contingent on the number of current inmates at the jail, according to Renner, as well as the amount of money the inmates have in their possession.
When an inmate is booked in the Preble County Jail, the money the inmate has on them is taken and processed into the “inmate trust account” immediately upon the booking procedure. From the trust account, inmates are able to spend their money, or are returned the money when he or she is released from custody.
If an inmate chooses to spend the money he or she walked into jail with, he or she is able to transfer their balance from the trust account to their commissary account, in $25 increments. The maximum amount of money an inmate is permitted to have in his or her commissary account is $25 to avoid hoarding of items.
Hoarding items could potentially allow trading within jail boundaries, or an inmate could form a grocery-like inventory for other inmates, both of which are highly discouraged by the Sheriff’s Office. If trading activity is found among inmates by the Sheriff’s staff, disciplinary measures are in place for the inmates involved; however as of now, trading activity does not seem to be an issue.
“We want them to spend, but we don’t want it to be a problem in our facility,” Renner said.
Trading and hoarding is believed to have been an issue when inmates were only receiving commissary once a week, whereas, depending on the items’ availability, inmates are now able to receive items more frequently.
“Anything that’s not in the vending machines that they want, it’s ordered electronically … and it’s brought in on Thursdays,” Renner said.
“They can buy certain clothing items through the ‘brown bag’ portion of that,” said Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson. “If they know they’re going to be here a while, there’s a list of approved items that they can buy off commissary if they wanted to do that … they could buy socks, they could buy underwear, t-shirts, and items that we’ve approved.”
To access their money, inmates are given a personal card that mimics a debit card’s abilities, allowing the inmate to use a vending machine or access the commissary. If an inmate damages his or her card, it will be a cost of five dollars to the inmate for a replacement card. If an inmate were to inflict damage upon a vending machine, the inmate would be charged criminally for the offense; however the Sheriff’s Office has no reported incidents to the machines as of yet. The sheriff’s deputies are able to take the inmate’s card away for bad behavior, according to Renner, even if the incident is unrelated to the vending machines or kiosks themselves.
Inmates are able to access the kiosk, to order items from the commissary, twice a day, according to Renner. A touch screen placed on a cart, is wheeled into cells for inmates to manually order items themselves. This allows inmates to have responsibility of their own orders, whereas, if an item was not filled for an inmate previously, the blame could have been on the inmate who had potentially forgotten to place the order, or it could have been the fault of a Sheriff’s Deputy who forgot to fill the order. With the kiosk, the responsibility of placing and filling orders falls entirely on the users.
Relatively, items available to inmates has not changed. Brand name snacks and sodas are the only items that have found their way onto the list of items available. “Minimum jail standards require us to offer commissary,” said Sheriff Simpson. “Every jail, the prisons have it, you’re required to offer a commissary service so they have access to these items. In doing so, we’re complying with Ohio law.”
“It’s more convenient to them, it’s more accessible to them,” Renner said. “But, the point of this was not to make this more accessible to them, it was to make this easier for us, for us to spend fewer man hours and time, and honestly for us to increase our profit and that was the goal here … we’ve got to provide uniforms and mattresses and all these things. So if at some point the fund can’t support that, then guess who’s on the hook?” said Renner, implying taxpayers.
“And we don’t want that. And I, as a citizen think, ‘well, they shouldn’t deserve those things’ well I understand that, but they’re also great tools for us in corrections. If you don’t have something in jails, what do you have to help them follow the rules?”
Renner also stated inmates are already incarcerated, so to “incentivize”good behavior within jailhouse boundaries, corrections officers must have rewards for inmates. “When you’re in here, there’s not a lot you have,” he said, “but those things [such as a television or snacks] you do have.”
Credit cards will also be accepted at the machines in the near future, a move that will create a wider transaction base among users. Family members and friends of inmates will also have access to internet transactions. For instance, if a family member lives out of state, he or she is able to transfer the inmate money from their home.
Previously, if an inmate was released “after hours” he or she would not be able to receive their money he or she had upon booking until the next day during Sheriff’s Office business hours. With the new system, an inmate is able to receive his or her money immediately upon release.
Inmates will also have the ability to purchase “phone time” over the system, according to Renner, however that feature will not be available for a few weeks.