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Connecting with the outside world: More technology, communication coming to county jail

Located inside the Goodhue County Law Enforcement Center, the adult detention center soon will go “online” with virtual visitation. The Goodhue County Board on July 2 approved switching technology vendors starting fall 2019.

Goodhue County's Adult Detention Center will soon see updates to its vending services — banking software, phone services, debit cards, credit card transactions and vending machines — as it transitions from working with multiple venders to TurnKey, which provides all of the above services.

Working with TurnKey also will lead to more technology made available to inmates. Technology will include access to emails, texting and virtual visitation.

A report completed by Goodhue County' Lt. Cory Gagnon, states: "We wanted to offer more to the detainee population in regards to the advancement in the correctional field using technology, as well as more efficient customer service, better maintained equipment and one vendor who offers all aspects of vending."

The contract with C&S Vending is due to expire in September.

"This current vendor can only offer the vending portion of the contract, which requires us to use multiple vendors for the rest of the package," the report explains

In order to find an organization that provides all needed services, Gagnon and other county officers researched vendors before recommending that the County Board allow Sheriff Marty Kelly and the detention center staff to move forward with TurnKey Corrections, based in River Falls.

The report states that "some of the advancements offered, which we are not receiving now, include vending bag deliveries, inmate email and text messaging, educational programs via tablets, online law libraries, reduction of paper and a reduction of storage of paper data."

Technology in correctional facilities is increasing in popularity across the country. An article published June 2014 in the Journal of Engineering reported that technology may help individuals in correctional facilities:

"Recent studies show that inmates who are connected to the outside world are more likely to refrain from conduct that would cause them to receive disciplinary infractions or jeopardize early release. With Telmate video visitation and other services, inmates are given safe and meaningful tools to stay connected and occupy their time with productive activity, therefore reducing criminal activity — all at no cost to taxpayers."

A 2012 study, written by Richard Tewksbury and David Patrick Connor of the University of Louisville, states:

"Inmates most likely to receive visits, and to receive more visits, are those who are the least deeply ingrained in a criminogenic lifestyle and who have a history of less criminal and more prosocial involvement. Stated differently, it may be those inmates who are less stereotypical of 'prison inmates,' as well as more reflective of mainstream cultural values and lifestyles, who are more likely to receive visits from family, friends, and loved ones. As such, for these inmates, visits may help maintain a pre-prison lifestyle and offer greater opportunities of visits, resulting in desired outcomes of lower recidivism, increased mental health, and better overall social functioning."

Through this new system, inmates will be able to visit with friends and family through video visitation as well as send text messages, emails and photos. This, according to the report, can also save inmates money by reducing time spent on the telephone.

These services, like those previously provided in the ADC, will have use charges. For example, each email sent will cost an inmate 25 cents. A text message will be 13 cents.

When Kelly and Gagnon presented this contract to the County Board for approval during the July 2 meeting in Cannon Falls, Commissioner Paul Drotos asked if and how inmates who were unable to pay for the services would be able to contact those outside of the ADC. It was explained that those who cannot afford these services are funded by those who can.

The contract with TurnKey will not impact the property tax levy, according to the report. Services are paid for by inmate funds. In 2018, $165,186 was spent at the Goodhue County jail by inmates.

Along with not paying for these services, the county receives a commission from the vending company. The report states that the county will receive 25% of commissions from inmate vending and 20% from email, texts and video visitation.

"The commissions received go into the inmate improvement fund to pay for programs and improvements in the jail that directly affect the inmates," according to the report.

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