The blue box in the lobby of the Barton County Jail may look like an ATM, but it doesn’t dispense cash. The Cobra-brand electronic cashier allows people to make deposits into inmate accounts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Sheriff Greg Armstrong said. In addition being convenient for the public, it improves accounting at the jail.
The cashier takes cash, credit cards or debit cards, charging a $2.75 "convenience fee" for each transaction. That fee goes to the vender, not the jail.
The system works with software that helps jail staff keep track of each inmate’s account. That can be a real time-saver, since the jail averages 85 or more inmates each day. "It’s an automated way of tracking it," Armstrong said. Before adding this software, jailers accepted the payments and wrote up receipts by hand. That meant there could be a lag between when a deposit was made and when it became available to spend on personal items.
Swanson Services Corp., which manufactures the electronic cashier and related software, notes the system can save a facility "countless man hours ... by reducing staff time posting deposits, while saving staff headaches through automated reconciling." It also provides reports that can be printed and reviewed.
Saving staff time saves taxpayers’ money, Armstrong said. It also addresses concerns about the jail commissary fund that have come up regularly during county audits.
Inmates are required to purchase anything not provided by the jail — from envelopes and stamps to underwear. (One thing provided by outside donations is Bibles, available in English and Spanish through the jail minister.) To make a purchase, they turn in a written request to the jailer. Any profit from commissary items goes into the jail’s inmate fund, which must be used to buy items used by inmates, Armstrong said. Uniforms, shoes, mattresses and pillows fall into this category, along with a jail television.