Jail store bill entered into House

Published 7:49 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A bill that will authorize the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department to operate a store in the county jail has been introduced in the Alabama House by Rep. Jimmy Martin.

Martin introduced HB-174 as a local bill (pertaining only to Chilton County) last week and the bill received its first reading Feb. 3.

“There has been a store operating in the jail for years,” Martin said this week, “and my bill simply puts a law on the books that authorizes its operation.”

The bill also authorizes the use of an inmate telephone system for prisoners in the custody of the county.

The proposed bill mandates that the sheriff “establish and maintain a Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund in a bank located in Chilton County selected by the sheriff. All proceeds collected under this act shall be deposited by the sheriff into the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.”

The bill stated the sheriff will maintain records of store sales and telephone usage charges and how the proceeds are used to provide state auditors.

“All profits realized in the operation of the jail store and the telephone system shall be expended at the discretion of the sheriff for law enforcement purposes in the interest of the public as the sheriff sees fit,” the proposed bill states.

The bill also states the use of the proceeds of the fund “shall not diminish or take the place of other source of income established for the sheriff or the operation of the jail.”

Since a jail store has operated at the jail for many years without a local law that covered its operation, HB-174 clears this matter by stating, “Any actions relating to the operation of a jail store or the inmate telephone system in the county jail prior to the effective date of this act are ratified and confirmed. Any existing proceeds derived from the operation of a jail store or inmate telephone system in the county jail prior to the effective date of this act shall be deposited into the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund created by this act.”

The bill has to be approved by vote in the House of Representatives and in the Alabama Senate to become law.

Today if you walk into the Chilton County Jail, you will not find a physical “jail store.” About six months ago, the jail started using a company called Swanson, which delivers orders (such as snacks and soft drinks) to inmates across the region.

How it works: Families of inmates can deposit money into an ATM-like “kiosk” machine in the jail lobby, thereby adding to the inmate’s account. This can also be done online with a credit card.

If an inmate wants to order something from the store, he first places an order. The order is processed on the next day, and on the following day it is shipped by truck and bagged individually.

Before, clerks operated a store on site. At that time, the jail had to purchase items in bulk.

“That’s a gamble,” Sheriff Kevin Davis said, explaining that inmates may not like a particular item.

Now, however, no employees are paid to run a store. And it seems to be working.

“Our revenue has actually increased by over 20 percent since going to this company,” Davis said.

The jail gets 55 percent of the sale proceeds. The remaining 45 percent goes to Swanson partly for maintenance and upkeep of the kiosk machine, which was installed at no charge to the county.

Currently, the jail’s proceeds are deposited into a “canteen fund.”

“With that we have funded bulletproof vests, law enforcement training, vehicles, and multiple needs of deputies,” Davis said.