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Cascade County to get 20% of inmate commissary purchases in new deal


Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune
Published 1:03 p.m. MT May 12, 2020

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The booking area of the Cascade County Jail is shown. (Photo: TRIBUNE PHOTO/RION SANDERS)

Cascade County is getting 20% of the sales from inmate purchases of candy, soft drinks and other items under a contract with a new company to manage commissary services at the Detention Center.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved a deal with St. Louis-based Keefe Commissary Network, LLC, a national automated commissary services management company, to run the jail commissary for three years.

The county will be paid a commission of 20% of the adjusted gross sales of commissary items.

The income projection for the county in fiscal year 2021 is about $28,000, Undersheriff Cory Reeves said.

That money will go toward ongoing efforts to upgrade the aging jail, Reeves said.

It’s the first time that the Sheriff’s Office has earned any income from commissary sales, Reeves said.

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The county tried to negotiate a commission with Montana Correctional Enterprises, Reeves said. MCE currently runs commissary services for both county and state inmates held at the jail. 

“They were not interested,” Reeves said. “That’s why we went elsewhere.”

The contract with Keefe is for commissary services for the county side of the jail. MCE will continue to provide services to state Department of Corrections inmates held in the facility.

There are 250 to 280 county inmates and 152 state inmates at the jail. 

Inmates can order items such as candy, soft drinks and ramen noodles. They do not leave their cells and go to a store to purchase the items. Commissary orders are taken. The items are then retrieved and distributed. 

Inmates, or others on their behalf, can place money in a commissary account that can be used to make the purchases.

One plus of the system Keefe runs is that when inmates are released with commissary money still on the books they will immediately receive a debit card with a refund. Currently, the county cuts a check. A few days later, inmates return to pick it up.

“Once they leave here, they leave here,” Reeves said of the new automated system of distributing the funds. “They don’t have to come back and get a paper check in a couple days.”

Keefe’s system also simplifies and automates the handling of cash that inmates bring with them when they are booked into the jail, Reeves said.

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Currently, when an person is booked, their cash is secured in an envelop and deposited in a bank account. Inmates get that money back when they leave.

“It’s a very old-school process they have to go through,” Reeves said.

Under Keefe’s program, inmates will be issued tickets that can be redeemed at a kiosk at the jail. Cash inmates have on hand when they are booked can be automatically transferred to commissary accounts as well.

“No one has to touch the money anymore,” Reeves said. 

Karl Puckett covers the city of Great Falls and Cascade County for the Tribune. He can be reached at kpuckett@greatfallstribune.com or 406-750-5383, or on Twitter at @GFTrib_KPuckett. 

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