Magazine article Corrections Forum

Automating Accounting: Trust Fund Accounting

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Automating Accounting: Trust Fund Accounting

Article excerpt

Handling of an inmate's money inside a correc- tional facility can be done in a range of ways - from manually to automatically. Older methods involve a clerk taking cash or checks, depositing it and keeping track of funds on an index card. New technology links trust funds to booking fees, restitution fees and child support payments. If you're looking to upgrade your system from pencil and paper, the companies in this article can automate deposits, save time and reduce human error. "Some facilities still use calculators, doing grunt-work mathematics to figure out funds for commissary, repayments, debts and costs," says Jon Flood, CEO of Correctional Computers of Wisconsin (CCW). "Calculating them by hand becomes a costly process when computers can automatically calculate the same figures in milliseconds of what it takes staff hours to do. So it's really a matter of staff time."

Kiosk Queries

Rather than develop software and jail management systems for all aspects of a correctional facility, CCW decided to specialize in technology for offender's cash management. One service is a kiosk within a facility where inmates can check balances of their trust fund accounts. "Inmates are very anxious to find out if deposits from friends and family made it into their account," Flood explains, and this can bog down a corrections officer or employee. "One facility was getting 3,000 hits a month to check on deposits."

While there are some instances of cash shrinkage with staff, Flood asserts that the people responsible for inmates' money are usually honest. However, he explains that checks issued by a sheriff's department or correctional facility when an inmate is released or for work release jobs are often altered. CCW can interface with commercial banks to verify the amount on the checks, greatly reducing fraudulent checks. But, he adds, technology brings to near elimination cutting checks for these offenders. The use of debit cards saves staff time in printing checks each week. Offenders under house arrest no longer need to get to the facility to pick up checks, since their allowances can be automatically added to their debit card.

Inmates money can be controlled many ways with CCW's services. Linking it to commissary sales, profiles can be created so that certain items are limited or forbidden, such as sugary snacks for a diabetic, certain foods for those with allergies, or any items that could harm an inmate with mental or health disabilities, to name a few. "To do this by hand would be a monumental task," Flood points out. Since rules and infractions are punishable by a monetary fine, CCW's service enables the facility to withdraw money from the inmate's account rather than taking away some other perk. "Charging a dollar may hurt more than no basketball," he says. Outstanding fines, such as for court services or child support, can also be taken from an account, ensuring a financial responsibility of the inmate.

ATM Deposits On the Rise

Cashless Systems Inc.'s (CSI) Cashless Commissary and Trust Fund Accounting System (CACTAS) product is a fully functional accounting system. "We offer a lot of functions that the rest don't bother to do," says Marshall Boon, president. CACTAS provides a public/lobby ATM/kiosk interface that allows visitors to make deposits to inmates' accounts with cash or credit cards. Boon predicts that the movement to automated deposits will continue and become even more widely used. "But it will be a long time before money orders are reduced or eliminated," he explains. "There's still a large segment of the public that don't have credit cards or aren't located near the jail, so they need to send money orders." Return of an inmate's funds upon release may also be provided through this ATM/kiosk.

If inmates are involved in work release programs, particularly if private enterprises come onsite, these programs tend to have rules about the earned money gets distributed. For instance, the inmate may only get to keep 20% for a trust fund, and must have mandatory savings, mandatory dependent care reductions, room and board, etc. …

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