Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa, Fla., is the home of 4,200 prisoners at any one time and 75,000 over the course of one year. The average stays of those inmates is 23 days.
But there are 89 electronic residents that never leave the jail – the Hillsborough County Jail Inmate Information System kiosks.
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Kiosks are being installed in jails across the United States, with the purpose of handling money, providing legal information and ordering vending items, all initiated by inmates at interactive touchscreens. Other jail kiosks exist to allow family members to add money to an inmate's account. If used in a fee-based system, the kiosks can even add additional revenue.
Over the past few years as correctional facilities have caught on to this technology, jails have typically installed a handful of kiosks. But some large facilities like the one in Hillsborough County have one kiosk to every 72 residents, a total of 89 kiosks in the whole building.
An inmate at Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa, Fla. accesses the Inmate Information System kiosk.
Hillsborough installed its machines in 2004 in an effort to save the time of staff members and to provide security for important documents. Jan Bates, programs manager for the Hillsborough County Sherriff's office, said employees were overloaded by handling thousands of request slips at a time.
"The kiosks relieved a lot of the manual things (staff) had to do and allowed us to spend time on other job duties," Bates said.
The kiosks also improve the collection, distribution and security of documents between inmates, jail officials and the courts, Bates said.
Most of the kiosk services are for the benefit of the inmates themselves. At the Hillsborough kiosks, inmates can order vending items, review account balances, submit information to the Public Defender's office, order Bibles and other religious materials and schedule visitations.
The kiosks have been a success with Hillsborough inmates, Bates said. In June 2007, prisoners signed onto the kiosks 265,172 times for an average of 15 minutes per visit.
Other jail and prison officials have come to visit Hillsborough's facility to experience the kiosks firsthand. Many of them said they hope to add the machines in their buildings soon, Bates said.
As for Hillsborough, the jail hopes to continue adding services for its inmates. Some developments include absentee voting ballots and obtaining information on community reentry resources.
Breaking into jails
Genesis Technology was one of the first companies to see a need for self-service in the correctional industry. The company saw an overload of paperwork because of the increasing number of inmates and cash management issues in the prison system, said Chris Barker, president of Genesis Technology.
Genesis formed a partnership with vending company Turnkey Corrections in 2003 to create a solution specifically designed for the prison environment. The resulting kiosk was designed to handle all cash transactions coming in and out of the prison. The real-time kiosk takes the monetary deposit and integrates it into the prisoner's account immediately.
After its initial success, Genesis added other modules to the kiosk including internal and external e-mail messaging. More than 100 of the Genesis kiosks are now in 17 facilities in the United States.
"Jails and vendors can get as imaginative as they want in terms of the services the kiosk can provide," Barker said. "You can have laundry services, gaming, just about anything."
Inmates access the Genesis kiosks with stored-value smart cards. Barker said the use of this technology and vending services can provide an additional revenue stream for jails.
For one, usage fees can be associated with specific actions on the kiosks with collected funds applied towards inmate programs within the jail or to cover other operating costs of the jail.
"In addition, vending sales tend to be higher than traditional canteen delivery because it provides immediate satisfaction to the purchaser, allows for impulse purchases, increases food/drink consumption and increases likelihood of purchases for short-stay inmates," Barker said.
Barker said the sheer convenience of a 24-hour deposit kiosk in the prison's lobby increases the potential to generate additional revenues.
A growing market
Swanson Services Corp. broke into the corrections system in 1983, when it partnered with the Dane County, Wis., Sheriff's Office to provide outsourced convenience store items to inmates. That c-store business grew and extended to other correctional facilities.
Some 20 years later, Swanson teamed up with Source Technologies Inc. and entered the self-service arena with the Cobra Cashier Inmate Account Deposit Kiosk. The kiosk was recently given the award for outstanding kiosk in the government category at the 2007 Las Vegas Self Service Expo.
The Cobra Cashier was first deployed at Florida's Manatee County Jail in January 2006. The company now has 30 cashiers installed, mostly in the southeast portion of the United States.
Swanson's first wall-mounted kiosks enabled visitors to make deposits into inmate accounts using cash or credit. Swanson deployed the kiosks to facilitate the transactions using the Cobra Banker software and to relieve corrections officers from being consumed with payments processing, said Chuck Swanson III, vice president of information systems for Swanson.
The kiosks have also graduated to other services such as grievance filling. The kiosks allow inmates to fill out a grievance form and keep track of it as it is passed along to the appropriate officials, "thus eliminating another large volume of paperwork that is passed around between the facility and the inmate," Swanson said.
With jail kiosks now having the ability to accomplish many more tasks, demand for them is rising. Swanson alone recently installed the first of 50 kiosks in New Orleans.
"Across the industry, we are seeing a larger demand because of the increase in the number of inmates," Swanson said.
Even with the increasing number of inmates and kiosk deployments in jails, a large market still is untapped.
"Self-service in the corrections environment is still relatively new and waiting to grow," Swanson said.