Magazine article Corrections Forum

Trust Accounting: Automation and Self Service Usage-The Wave of the Future

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Trust Accounting: Automation and Self Service Usage-The Wave of the Future

Article excerpt

The old days of mail orders, cash at walk-up desks and other handson systems for trust accounting are gone. Automation is the name of the game and it benefits both correctional departments and offenders. Systems now are so streamlined that staff involvement is minimal - deposits are handled by phone, at stand-alone kiosks or online, then these are linked directly to inmates' commissary account through the jail's management system. There is even a handheld option available, if kiosks aren't practical, where the staff can take commissary orders directly on a handheld device that interfaces directly with the system.

PARTNERING AND SHIFTING FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

While facilities may still accept cash at a walk-up desk or money orders that are mailed, many have partnered with companies that handle deposits made online or over the phone, and then link the funds to the inmate's commissary account and seamlessly integrate to the jail's management system. Like many correctional facilities and jails throughout the U.S., the Arlington County Sheriffs Office in Virginia utilizes commissary financial services that include deposits into an inmate's trust account. According to Teresa Nguyen, support service administrator, deposits can be made into these accounts via the Internet or through a toll-free number, as well as through a kiosk located at the detention center that accepts cash, credit and debit cards.

"We've definitely seen a decrease in traffic coming in with payments, as well as a huge reduction with mailed money orders," Nguyen says. "Some people still prefer this way, especially since there's no fee to drop the payment in the box." While inmates may be more content when the deposited funds from family and friends are in their accounts, kiosks located inside the facility's housing unit for inmates' use are also another technology benefit. "When you have 70 inmates to one deputy, and they're always asking the deputy to check the balances of their accounts, this saves a lot of time and a lot of inquiries," she adds.

The kiosks allow inmates to check their balances and place commissary orders in English and Spanish. And even though they may have access to their accounts with these kiosks, limits determined by the facility still apply. Nguyen explains that offenders in this detention center have a weekly commissary limit of $75. If they want to send money to someone, particularly used for child support, they fill out a form and the deputy verifies that there's money in the account, signs off on the request and forwards it to the accounting department.

As with commissary sales, limits also apply to deposits made to accounts. "You don't want an excess of money in these accounts," she stresses. "Inmates tend to barter, gamble or trade if they have too much money available to them." Another advantage to using these types of financial services is that they can take the onus off of the facility, should there be an issue with funds. "Once the money is deposited, the company you partner with is responsible so if anything goes wrong, it's not on us," Nguyen explains. "It takes the risk off of us."

Advanced Technologies Group manages funds once they are deposited to the institution, whether it's by money order or through automated financial services, and Atul Gupta, chairman and CEO, adds that it's about a million dollars a day in federal and state facilities throughout the country. ATG systems currently manages accounting/commissary for 25% of all inmates incarcerated, they report. For facilities with a large number of offenders, he stresses that management would be surprised at the amount of time saved by utilizing financial services to collect deposits for inmates' accounts.

"Keep in mind the amount of information you can keep for each transaction," he explains. Check images can be saved forever, as well as the image of the envelope it was mailed in. "With these services, you can catch fraudulent activities much sooner. …

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