Magazine article Corrections Forum

Raising the Stakes on the Chips: Win-Win Commissary Operations

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Raising the Stakes on the Chips: Win-Win Commissary Operations

Article excerpt

When opportunity knocks, open the door. Commissaries are becoming much more than convenience stores behind the walls. For the nation's more innovative DOCs, merging commissary operations with inmate training and re-entry initiatives is developing into a win-win opportunity.

CF talked to PCI, Pennsylvania's progressive commissary distribution operation, as well as a leading commissary vendor, to find out more about what's happening in prison commissary operations.

Teaching Inmates to Work in Pennsylvania

PCI began Commissary Distribution operations in October 2006. Upon full implementation, which is expected in spring 2008, PCI will service all 27 state institutions, according to Heather Yates, special assistant to the secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. PCI currently serves about half of Penn. State correctional institution's commissaries and are adding two new institutional customers every six weeks.

Since the early 180Os, Pennsylvania has been known as The Keystone State, attributable to its central location on the Eastern seaboard. This bit of geographic luck played heavily in the development of major northsouth interstate highway routes and positions the state as a transportation gateway to the Midwest. "For this reason, logistics companies have located numerous distribution warehouses here," Yates notes.

Warehouse Operations Is a Growth Industry

Perhaps partly for that reason, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has identified warehouse operations as an industry cluster that is growing rapidly and needs additional trained workers in the workforce now and in the foreseeable future. "PCI Commissary Distribution will play an increasing role in providing for successful inmate re-entry into this growth industry and the community," Yates adds.

To date, PCI has opened two 30,000-square-foot distribution warehouses, complete with pallet storage, individual fulfillment stores, computerized checkout stations, and shipping docks. A third location is slated to open in 2008. Inmates work in all areas of shipping, receiving, order fulfillment and packaging, and product management. Each distribution center has a complimentary Warehouse Operations classroom program offered by the Penn. Corrections Education Bureau. PCI forklift operators can receive formal certification that is recognized and transferable to post-release opportunities.

Transferable Skills

"Adjusting to change, particularly in a corrections environment, is always a challenge and the transition from institutionbased commissary sales to the PCI system presented a few," Yates acknowledges. "But after the initial implementation, inmates and institution staff alike found that commissary distribution was much more efficient and easily managed than the previous on-site commissary stores had been."

According to Yates, the addition of 300 PCI inmate jobs made this project the "jewel in the crown" of service industries. The bonus is that these are good jobs; requiring full effort and attention for a complete eight-hour shift, developing valuable and transferable work skills, and positively influencing a released offender's re-entry success. PCI is as proud of the quality of services that they offer their institutional partners as they are in accomplishing their core mission: Teaching Inmates to Work in Pennsylvania.

For further information contact Heather Yates, Penn. …

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