The Scott County Board unanimously approved a deal this week with a correctional market servicing parent company, Keefe Group, as a “one-stop-shop” vendor for the Scott County Jail at its Oct. 1 meeting.
The vendor will handle the jail’s food, technology and laundry services and will eliminate the need for inmate workers in the kitchen and laundry room.
Capt. Luke Hennen of the Scott County Sheriff’s Office said the change will allow for greater efficiency within the jail, allowing the already limited staff to focus their resources on meeting inmate needs.
Scott County Sheriff’s Office Accounting and Contracts Management Coordinator Cassie Koch, who presented on Keefe Group at the board meeting, said the turnover rate and eligibility screening for inmates in the jail makes it difficult to keep up with the pace necessary to run the kitchen and laundry services.
Hennen added that having inmates work in the kitchen and laundry is time-intensive for the officers, because inmate workers must be monitored. He also said that the laundry and kitchen equipment is damaged often with inmate workers, because they either don’t use the equipment properly or are trying to break something.
And on top of that, Hennen said, few inmates are authorized to work in the kitchen. To be approved, they need to have been sentenced with charges that qualify as non-violent crimes. Under the current model, there are about five inmates who work in the kitchen and two in the laundry room.
“When you have five inmates in the kitchen and 120 people need to eat, the vegetarian doesn’t always get a vegetarian tray, and the non-pork eater might get the pork,” Hennen said, adding that when one inmate receives significantly more food than another inmate, which happens often when inmates are working in the kitchen, conflict can arise quickly.
The new vendor will bring its own kitchen and laundry staff. It will also bring its own a la carte options, which means inmates can purchase basic snacks like candy bars, chips, pencils, stamps and envelopes. There will also be meal alternatives for inmates who want to pay for a meal outside of the normally-provided options.
“It will be comparable to an a la carte option in school lunchrooms,” Hennen said.
Keefe Group will provide a full-time staff member to oversee these extra options available to inmates.
Koch and Hennen said the inmates will be able to take advantage of opportunities outside the jail through Sentencing to Service, a state program that allows qualifying inmates to perform community service jobs. Hennen said the Scott County Jail has been unable to put inmates through this program the past few years because they’ve have been needed for laundry and kitchen services.
With Sentencing to Service, approved inmates can shave two days off their sentence by working three days.
“A lot of cities depend on Sentencing to Service inmates getting involved by fixing things or repairing things,” Hennen said.
In addition to the new food service, the jail will get rid of 10 of its 14 video visitation booths and instead enable Skype video calls through Keefe Group.
Currently, the visitation model is already through a video screen, but visitors must walk into a visiting room at the jail in order to virtually visit with their loved one. The old-fashioned booths with the glass screens you see in movies, Hennen said, are usually only used if an inmate needs to meet with an attorney.
“We’re using 2005 technology,” Hennen said.
The new Skype visitation option will allow visitors to make calls to inmates from wherever they’d like, and it will cut down on the time it takes officers to usher inmates to and from the video call stations, Hennen said. On a Saturday, he said there could be up to 30 visitors in the waiting room who have to sit there for two hours, often times with children, in order to make a 20-minute video call with a loved one. With the new Skype visitation option, there would be no wait time.
“I get phone calls from inmates’ families saying if they don’t get (to the jail) early enough, they might not even get time to talk to the inmate,” Hennen said. “Incarceration is already a big enough hurdle.”
Making a Skype phone call will cost visitors $7.50 to speak with an inmate. If a visitor wishes to speak with their loved one for free, the option will still be available to come to the jail and use a video visiting booth.
The new communication model also services emails, which will cost five cents per email for an inmate and 25 cents per email for someone outside the jail.
Using Keefe Group as the county jail’s new vendor will add an estimated $34,000 to the jail’s operational expense, but Hennen said this is a conservative estimate, and depending on revenue created from Skype calls, “it could be a wash.”