5 Common Budget Sources for Your Jail Facility

Pinching pennies? Wondering where you can save money? Looking to collect extra cash? The five tips below will help you find budget sources for your jail or prison facility.
Kenzie Koch
Kenzie Koch
Daniel Quam | Risk Management Specialist

Being a correctional officer entails wearing several different hats. To be successful, they must excel in demonstrating leadership, continuous quality improvement, consistency, awareness, and taking action when necessary. However, a task that helps their facility become successful is a task that most correctional officers and law enforcement employees haven’t been trained to manage: budgets.

Officers heavily rely on their network of experts such as legal, purchasing, and vendors, to guide them along the way until they learn the processes themselves. As Daniel Quam, Risk Management Specialist, looks back on his 21-year career in detention operations, he reminisces on the people, opportunities, and experiences that will be carried with him forever, including how he was introduced to budget sources.

Shortly after high school, Daniel became a correctional officer, deputy, and then an administrative sergeant, where he learned about management, operations, procurement, local, state, and federal government - as well as budgeting. Throughout the years, there was always one piece of advice that Daniel clung onto, a quote from a successful Chief Deputy: “I never went to school to learn about procurement, IT, and budgets, but I will find a way to get the job done.”

In the reading below, you will learn the TOP five different budgeting sources that can be implemented in your jail facility in an effort to fund projects and improve the lives of your inmates and staff team.

1. Inmate Commissary 

Most jails with an average population of fifty inmates usually have some type of commissary. Several facilities choose to operate on their own, but contracting out commissary is a very common and well-known best practice. Choosing a vendor who specializes in the business usually leads to greater efficiency and some additional revenue added to the commissary fund.

When negotiating these contracts, some vendors will allow for partnering with other providers for needed additional services such as technology purchases. It has been found to be a best practice to bid out your commissary contract every few years. Periodically going through the bid process will ensure you are getting competitive rates and affording an opportunity to continue the advancement of your operations. Competition in the marketplace is always helpful to bring the best of the breed to any operation.

2. Inmate Communication Services

The opportunity for inmates to interact with their loved ones while behind bars is crucial to their personal mental health and the overall facility’s safety. Many studies have shown the more an inmate is able to communicate with their family and friends while incarcerated, the more unlikely it is for them to reoffend once released. To allow inmates to communicate with the outside world, most facilities install phones to ensure inmates have the opportunity to connect with their loved ones. However, it comes with a price (literally).

Luckily for inmates, the cost per minute has been declining over the years and still continues to drop. In many jurisdictions, the positive revenue helps fund programs for inmates and the facility. Finding a good balance between the cost per minute and projected additional revenue is important to supplement the cost of educational programs and services.

A New Era for Inmate Communication

Although phones have been a positive addition to jail and prison facilities, inmate communication has evolved over the years and now is starting to introduce video visitation. Implementing video visitation has received its fair share of criticism, but as we all know, especially after living through a pandemic, video conferencing is the preferred and enhanced method of electronic communication.

The largest fiscal benefit to come from video visitation is the ability to charge inmates for additional visits once they have received their minimum amount. Not only has video communication evolved over time, but so has messaging. Some facilities offer messaging services such as instant messaging, receiving photos, and sending and receiving emails on tablets and kiosks. These options have opened up the door for secured inmate communication in a standard medium for the general public to use on a daily basis.

Of course, it’s up to the facility to decide how much they want to charge for these extra services. Exploring these communication methods is a good practice to maintain community ties and facility safety while providing some additional revenue for inmate programs or facility operations.

3. Relationships

The governmental body that controls the budget process is the most traditional manner for receiving funding in detention facilities. Of course, their priorities circulate around the jurisdiction, so most of their focus on correctional facilities is centered on the needs of the facility. Thus, developing the best relationship possible with this governing body is essential. When trust and transparency have been established, positive results are likely.

When correctional staff organize operations to be ready for inspection and share statistics, performance, and goals with the community, support will seemingly follow. Planning and projecting your needs several years down the road also helps the governing body understand and prepare for future expenses. The adversarial structure of this process does bring stress and frustration, but the outcome should be a fair and mutually beneficial result.

4. Grant Funding

Grant funding is often a method for specialized projects to help achieve a specific goal. Currently, there are funds available to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities, which is an excellent funding option to enhance your inmate and staff interactions. When you have digitized all interactions between inmates and staff, you will have a great tool available for contract tracing, special status awareness, quarantine precautions, and providing enhanced medical services with programmed reminders for medications and treatments.

Search for every grant opportunity you can apply for to help enhance your services. Improving mental health, safety, security, and PREA compliance through grants are very helpful opportunities for facilities available from federal, state, and non-profit organizations.

5. Medical Provider

Medical provider contracts are typically the most expensive contract or expense for a facility but are a critical service. Adding an enhanced documentation service like an electronic medical record or medication management software is an excellent investment to enhance the accountability and efficiency of medical services. However, the key in detention lawsuits is usually from lack of medical care.

When medical providers are working in a correctional facility, they need to have access to custody and behavior records that are documented by staff. The communication between security and medical needs to be seamless and as detailed as possible. Developing an integration between medical and mental health records with notations and referrals from security operations helps reduce the facility’s liability and enhances the health care provided to inmates. When this approach is taken and added to contracted medical services, your facility will operate as One Team with One Mission.

Securing Funds for Your Corrections Facility

Most states prefer for their Sheriff to control the inmate benefit fund account, as he or she usually knows best what can be spent on programs and services for the benefit of the inmates. These benefits are commonly categorized into programs, safety, and security. Making sure the account and spending practices are done transparently is equally as essential as the ability to solve the problems that occur with these funds. A best practice is to have a standard procedure for approvals to include a review outside of the Sheriff’s office by the auditor or purchasing agent, and of course, keeping a record of all expenses.
Quam’s former Sheriff and now U.S. Congressman Troy Nehls once told Quam to plan, purchase, and implement the best program and service he can possibly provide: The most effective approach is taking the costly brunt right away rather than choosing the cheapest route and then ultimately spending more money in the long run trying to correct mistakes. Hopefully, these tips will become useful tools for you in your efforts to fund projects in your facility to improve the lives of inmates and staff alike.