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Monday, October 24, 2016
Sheriff: ‘Transparency is a must’; Gentry seeking new direction on inmate commissary, video visitation contracts Tiffeny Owens Oct 23, 2016
The Cullman County Jail as well as all other jails should be completely transparent. Sheriff Gentry is right to reevaluate the commissary, telephone visitation system, and the equipment used by families to place money on their loved ones books.
Anyone who has had a loved one in jail can tell you the computer systems used to place money on a loved ones account is very difficult to say the least. We congratulate him for taking steps to make changes in his facility.
The inmates' punishment for their crimes is being in jail. Neither they nor their family members should be punished by the systems for commissary, telephone visitation privileges, and the families do not deserve to go through the difficulties of complicated equipment.
One more comment. You'll notice he's calling for COMPETITIVE BIDDING, rather than just handing the service off to a relative or a crony.
The Cullman Times Story
If you’ve ever had a loved one incarcerated in the Cullman County Detention Center, you know the drill.
Whether you’re visiting them or getting them clothes or snacks, it’s going to cost you.
Money must deposited on an inmate’s account, and then the inmate can shop at the jail commissary or visit via a video telephone conference call.
It’s the inmates’ families and friends that bear the costs, not the inmates locked inside. And it’s this fact that’s prompted Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry to reevaluate the way the department runs its commissary and telephone visitation.
Both services have been put out for bids. And in a first, two committees, each composed of sheriff’s office and detention center employees, will recommend which company should get the contracts.
“Our main focus is making sure our local citizens — the mothers, fathers and grandparents — and our local tax money is being taken care of and not being wasted,” Gentry said. “The goal is for everything to take effect January 2017.”
Both committees are separately reviewing the bids for commissary and inmate telephone services.
“We have a company we’re also working with, Secured Perimeters International, that’s assisting us with the bids,” Gentry said. “The committees will work with them to come up with which one best meets the needs of our local taxpayers, and then they’ll make their recommendations to me.”
The current supplier for the jail commissary isn’t under contract. Telmate, the company that currently provides inmate video visitation, is still under contract with the detention center, but it didn’t submit a bid, Gentry said.
“We’re looking at going in a different direction,” he said. “With any government entity, transparency is a must. We want to keep everything transparent and fair.”
Regardless of which companies get the contracts, those depositing money on inmate accounts will still do so via electronic kiosk.
Last year, the sheriff’s office audited call records and financial transactions with Telmate. Gentry told The Times in July 2015 he initiated the review to be sure no one was “taken advantage of or put under an undue financial strain by visiting their family members in jail.”
According to the Telmate contract signed in September 2014 — prior to Gentry taking office in January 2015 — fees for “credit deposits” — funds deposited with a credit or debit card — on inmates’ account via kiosk increase with the amount of money deposited. Fees are as follows:
$0 to $20, $3.95 charge.
$20.01 to $100, $6.95 charge.
$100.01 to $200, $8.95 charge.
$200.01 to $300, $10.95 charge.
Fees for “operator-assisted deposits” are as follows:
$0 to $20, $4.95 charge.
$20.01 to $100, $7.95 charge.
$100.01 to $200, $9.95 charge.
$200.01 to $300, $11.95 charge.
Fees for “automated toll-free or internet deposit” are the same as credit deposits.
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.