Magazine article Corrections Forum

Trust Fund Accounting

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Trust Fund Accounting

Article excerpt

Commissary operations are a multi-million dollar industry throughout local, state and federal corrections agencies nationwide. But commissary ops are part of a much larger picture - a network of financial transactions that includes intake and release monies, bail release, banking deposits and debit card release programs. Going even deeper, these functions can also further integrate with a facility's overall jail management system.

Because these financial transactions are labor intensive and have the tendency to burden staff with endless requests and backend office work, it is becoming more prevalent to automate and tie the software into self-service kiosks that interface with staff, inmates and their friends and family.

These automated programs can be procured in various ways. Agencies can pay as you go with a monthly fee or can buy a license and pay for support. If you work with a larger commissary company, such as the big four - Keefe, Swanson, Aramark and Canteen - they offer their own solution to go along with their services. In addition, some services can be hosted inhouse on agency servers and others are web-based services handled by the supporting company.

Agencies seem to be enjoying some of the trust fund automation. For example, a kiosk that works like a Coke machine can take all the offender's bills and coins - and give him a receipt without the money ever going into another individual's hands. Or an officer can simply swipe a debit card in a reader and the money in the inmate's account transfers to it without having to do the accounting or writing a physical check.

But it's not really the kiosk hardware that makes the difference. "Kiosks get attributed to doing all this wonderful stuff, but it's all about a good back end solution," explains Marshall Boon, president of Cashless Systems, Inc., a North Carolina jail software development firm in business nearly 20 years. "The kiosk is nothing more than the front end. If it's not integrated well with back end, it's creating more work," he cautions.

CSi offers a web-based inmate trust fund/commissary service that is integrated and works in real time. Its Cashless Commissary and Trust Fund Accounting System, or C.A.C.T.A.S software, is installed in over 149 facilities and 68 agencies in 21 states.

Because the application is scalable, CSi clients range from small standalone jails to large state government contracts, including state departments of corrections in Montana, Ohio and Arkansas. And while CSi works directly with agencies it also teams up with small and medium commissary providers if the department's bid calls for it.

Its web-enabled application is built with Microsoft's ASP. Net and therefore can run on a common Internet server. That way 25 jails can be run on one server enjoying the economies of scale the service provider can provide, explains Boon. Compared with using a client-based server, "there's no disadvantage to jail," he adds. "When they log in, the information is all theirs, they can't see the other client jails." The state of Montana DOC uses this web-based service, while the state of Ohio runs the same technology on a single site and a single server. In the latter, all prisons are connected to same database through the SOCC (State of Ohio Computer Center) and it runs on their WAN beneath their own firewall for security.

CSi applications support the intake, lobby, inmate, and debit release kiosks. Friends and family can deposit funds from credit or debit accounts in real time on its web site

All equipment is provided free of charge and fees are charged on a sliding scale based on commissions.

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Oasis Management Systems also offers a full suite of inmate accounting software. The core application provides a full general ledger, automated payments, unlimited fund tracking, unpaid debt reporting, monthly profit sweeps, savings accounts, and others. …

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