Commissary Menu

04/13/2017
All consumers have come to expect instant payment options, to pay a bill or for point of service purchases. Online banking and cash back with groceries have become the financial norm and a recent purchase by this writer at Apple computer was completed through ApplePay right on a phone with no plastic in hand. Consumers have come to expect to be able to pay a bill or buy items online whenever the whim hits them.
 
Offenders are no exception. They like to be able to browse tasty tidbits, movies, music, personal hygiene items or other creature comforts and score them in the moment.
Facilities constantly seek better ways to go about this. Many have already gone beyond the bubble sheets so prevalent in days gone by. They are tightly integrating their trust fund accounting with commissary, of course, so they can track expenditures. But they are also linking together many other applications to automate ordering, tracking and inventory control. And when offenders are released they can be given debit cards that can be used immediately, rather than a check that may not be able to be cashed for hours or even days.
Finally they are creating a “paper” trail (should it be called an e-trail?) that can be followed to manage delivery of items as well as to create reports and for ease in conducting audits.
The following are some of the newer benefits that commissary solutions are delivering to corrections agencies.
 
Union Supply Group’s U-Technology Division integrates their operations and applications with every technology vendor and approach in the industry, they report.
 
U-com is their completely automated commissary ordering application that interfaces with scanners, kiosks and with banking and trust fund as well as JMS/OMS systems to automate the ordering, tracking and inventory processes. U-Com reduces paperwork, saves time and money and accelerates fulfillment and delivery.
 
The company’s offender trust fund program, called U-Trust, creates a so-called e-trail—it receives, makes and tracks all payments electronically, verifiably and securely. U-Trust enables agencies to manage offender payrolls, automate reimbursement and eliminate manual data entry and accounting errors. It is GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) compliant, the guideline for financial accounting practices.
 
Union Supply group’s Offender Account Management software also links with payment and other money management solutions through its US Jail Pay Division. This eliminates onsite cash handling with booking kiosks that count money and link to trust fund software to create an offender account; Lobby Deposit Kiosks and Debit Release Cards that consolidate phone, commissary and trust funds upon release with no need for jails to keep cash on hand. Debit release cards can be used at ATMs and merchants and re-loaded at any time to help released offenders establish payment and credit histories. It also allows electronic payments to be made through an online payment site.
 
The offender account management software can also extend to automate all payments within the facility. It can link applications to automate payroll tracking, provide account balances and process transactions. US Jail Pay also lets an agency automatically earmark funds from any or all offender’s accounts for restitution or room-and-board; set purchasing limits, withhold taxes from offender payroll deposits and more.
 
Flexible Suite
The KeepTrak Software System from Keefe Group is a suite of programs for managing correctional commissaries. Its programs include inmate banking, commissary and inventory, and may be used together to form a complete integrated solution or may be integrated with other banking systems.
 
The KeepTrak Inmate Banking system currently manages more than 200,000 inmate accounts at over 350 correctional institutions nationwide.
 
Its Inmate Accounting feature provides entry of all transactions related to the inmate’s financial history including deposits, withdrawals, purchases, refunds, debts, holds, payroll, savings, closeouts, transfers and abandoned funds. Its Cash Management Workflow also automatically completes all required ledger transactions based on authorized checkpoints in the process of moving cash from booking, visit, mail room, release to vault to bank.
 
Important to inmates and their family and friends, KeepTrak provides real time financial transactions, including direct debit interfaces to phone calling systems and online vending systems, automated deposit and disbursement capabilities including web, kiosk, phone deposits and MasterCard debit card disbursement.
 
On the commissary side, the KeepTrak Commissary program has been employed in the corrections industry for over 20 years, managing more than 500,000 inmate shoppers and receipting more than 1.6 million orders per month. It offers flexible order collection, including phone, kiosk, scan counter sales, cart sales and vending. It has a provision that allows administrators to place dynamic restrictions on inmates’ accounts that can control privilege level, quantity and/or frequency of purchase by product or coordinate with family purchases.
For correctional agencies that manage commissary inventories, the KeepTrak Inventory/ Fulfillment system helps them streamline distribution, pricing and inventory restocking, among others. The system has been adopted in four states and a number of individual facilities and is scheduled for implementation in two additional states.
 
Keefe Group has a stable of products that help manage inmate financials. The Access Secure Intake booking kiosk links with the banking system, assuring cash get deposited without staff handling cash. Upon release, their Secure Release program loads inmate funds onto pre-paid debit cards rather than release checks (these contain bank account and routing numbers which can be stolen). Check fraud is eliminated and your staff no longer needs to manage and reconcile cash and checks. With debit cards inmates have access to 100% of their funds with a card that works everywhere MasterCard is accepted. There’s no surcharge at MoneyPass ATMs, and they can avoid fees altogether by getting cash back at point-of-sale transactions, getting a balance advance from participating financial institutions or transferring funds from the card to their bank accounts. And there are no checks to go uncashed because of either the small amount or the stigma of having the jail logo on the top.
 
VendEngine is another company that offers a multi-faceted high-tech commissary solution that links with additional related offerings.  “We are a cloud-based technology system that specializes in commissary and vending services across the Southeast,” the company told us, adding, “We are in nearly 100 facilities across eight states with partnerships growing daily.” 
Because they are cloud based, there is no need for a server in the jail, eliminating the need for maintenance at the facility. Cloud based also means that jail administrators can access accounting reports and communications on a PC or mobile device from anywhere that has an Internet connection.
 
Several of the features of their commissary solution include: online and toll-free deposits that can be made in 45 seconds; lobby and kiosk deposit systems; immediate availability of commissary funds and phone deposit integration (this eliminates phone cards).  
VendEngine’s software package includes full accounting and auditing capabilities (45 separate reports), warehouse and inventory needs, jail management and phone system integrations, debit release programs, legal law library services, and video visitation platforms (on-site and off-site). In addition, they note: “We offer many different hardware solutions including booking, lobby and inmate kiosks manufactured in Nashville, Tenn., as well as tablets and additional devices for security.” And finally, they say: “Our dual redundancy backup systems mean your jail is literally NEVER down.” 
 
You’ve Got Mail
Many commissary applications also have a built-in email system, which is becoming a popular way of communications for several reasons, foremost that it eliminates contraband. Union Supply states that installing e-communications can “improve offender morale and smooth re-entry by facilitating secure, traceable communication between offenders and their loved ones.” Its U-Mail offender email system, the company says, provides easily monitored offender email inbound, outbound or both through hardened kiosks and terminals. It’s offered free to facilities, which can charge fees (either monthly or per email) to generate additional revenue for facility programs.
 
Keefe also offers the Access Corrections SecureMail system. The service provides timely communication with the outside world, helps them feel more connected and eliminates contraband. In most cases the email is delivered within 24 hours of it being sent.
SecureMail is processed through its Word Watch filtering system, which identifies and reports key words and phrases. Once staff approves a message, it can be printed, sent for download through its Access to Entertainment media player or sent to its Edge inmate kiosk. One-way or two-way messaging is available and agencies can add a revenue-generating component if they choose. Finally Keefe offers the Access Corrections SecurePhoto system that gives an inmate’s family and friends the ability to share photos electronically. Sent separately from the written text, staff can quickly review and approve all photos, up to 36 at a time. Once approved, photos can be printed, sent for download to the media player or to the inmate kiosk.