Magazine article Corrections Forum

Kiosks Are Here to Stay

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Kiosks Are Here to Stay

Article excerpt

Kiosks are everywhere, from airports to banks-even behind bars. Kiosks are used in prisons to facilitate inmate banking and commissary operations, and can also provide legally-mandated law libraries to inmates. Here are some of the ways the technology has become entrenched inside the walls.

Software Developer's Perspective

"There is a huge demand for kiosk technology," says Marshall Boon, president, Cashless Systems, Inc. "The big question in my mind is whether kiosks are a nice gadget or are they something that is needed?" The objective is that the savings will come about in staff time. "From a software developer's point of view, we are certainly going to provide the interface for the kiosk," Boon says. "The question then becomes 'who will pay for the kiosk?'" Commissary service providers sell products directly to inmates, and provide hardware, software and services to their correctional clients. "They are getting to the point where they're providing kiosk technology to replace other types of hardware services they've placed in the past, like optical mark readers, or OMR," Boon notes. Optical scanners have been used for years to automate the entry of commissary orders, but now they are starting to be replaced with kiosks. "A single kiosk doesn't cost as much as an OMR scanner does, but a facility will need multiple kiosks to replace each scanner."

Kiosks must be in a common area where the inmates can have access to then at times when they can enter their commissary orders. "With a reasonable size jail, facilities will need at least half a dozen," Boon believes. "Officers are not going to move inmates around in the jail just to get them to a kiosk, which can become a security risk." This could mean a larger hardware investment than OMRs, but kiosks offer more applications. Not only will inmates enter commissary orders, but they can query for transaction history and account balance.

"The trade off is an investment in hardware and networking," Boon points out. Because a wireless network can be hard to implement in a prison environment because of steel, an additional infrastructure investment may be necessary.

Another useful application is a lobby kiosk so that visitors can leave deposits by credit card or cash. "We are working with NCR on an interface for their payment kiosk, with a cash receptor," says Boon. If a family member is coming to visit they don't have to buy a money order. This can translate to a big savings to the jail, in that staff will not have to key in money orders. "The lobby kiosk can be a money maker for the facility," Boon adds. "When processing credit card and debit card transactions, the jail can bump up the fee for processing to offset the investment in the hardware."

Prison environments are notorious for inmate vandalism, which puts equipment at risk. The four-inch touch screen kiosk device Cashless Systems is going to use in cell blocks is bolted to the wall. "Kiosks are located in common areas that are always under supervision and constantly monitored," Boon notes. "A lot of people consider jail an environment not conducive to computerized devices because the inmates will tear it up, but it can be secured and a kiosk has no cords, cables or mouse." Kiosks are interactive, all the same commissary rules apply and everything is done in real time so inmates won't be able to spend money they don't have.

In November 2006, Cashless Systems rolled out a new project with the State of Ohio DOC using a web-enabled system. The product developed for the State of Ohio DOC has a freestanding inmate kiosk, called a Lookup Station, that inmates use as they enter the commissary store," according to Boon. "Ohio uses a point of sale system, so inmates can scan their ID badge at a kiosk station and, after scanning their barcode, their account balance is displayed." The company is now taking desired features from the Ohio custom design, along with the functions from their tried and true client server release of their CACTUS proprietary software, and are putting it all together on a new web services release that will include both commissary and trust fund functions. …

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