How hand-held devices and kiosks open up a world of resources for incarcerated individuals
Using mobile technology to access resources can help reduce the burden of incarceration on individuals, families, and facilities alike
Sponsored by Tyler Technologies
By Laura Neitzel, Corrections1 BrandFocus Staff
On any given day, I can use my smartphone to check my bank balance, watch a video, order food delivery, check in at my health club, join a video call, take a training course, and make appointments.
Incarcerated individuals do not have the same luxuries. But, thanks to VendEngine’s mobile devices and apps, they can have similar experiences within a jail or prison facility.
VendEngine provides jail and prison facilities with kiosks, tablets and hand-held devices that open a world of life-changing resources to incarcerated individuals. Made specifically to integrate with any facility management system, VendEngine’s cloud-based platform offers residents digital services from email, video calls and texts, to funds management, commissary ordering, and legal and educational resources.
“Having safe and secure access to some basic and essential services through technology has proven over and over again to enable an incarcerated individual to have a better outcome upon release,” said Silas Deane, founder of VendEngine. “They stay connected to their families, their jobs and can use the tools available to them to set themselves up for a successful re-entry.” At the same time, VendEngine provides corrections officers and jail administrators with monitoring and situational awareness tools that keep themselves and their residents safe.
Working across three separate interested parties jail administrators, families and the incarcerated ─ the VendEngine platform provides information flow into a shared dataset that ensures everyone’s well-being and improves jail operations. Following are some of the key features accessible to incarcerated individuals using the kiosks, tablets or handhelds.
The core of the VendEngine system is a financial accounting system, CorrectPay, which integrates a public-facing website, where family members and others can make deposits directly into a resident’s account, and a resident portal, through which incarcerated individuals can check their funds balance, view transactions and pay bills.
Commissary Ordering Platform
The Commissary Ordering Module, allows residents to place commissary orders through a picture-based point-of-sale system. Because the system accesses the full resident profile, including electronic health records, any food orders placed by the resident will adhere to their specific dietary allowances or restrictions. The orders are routed through the jail commissary or third-party vendor for delivery to the resident, while every transaction is tracked to make sure commissary items are delivered accurately.
Should the resident need medical attention or a prescription refill, they can place a medical request through the portal. The request is routed directly to the healthcare team for evaluation and response. This potentially gets appropriate care to the incarcerated individual more quickly by eliminating the need for prison staff to pass requests from the inmate to the medical staff.
Grievance Management System
One of the most powerful features of the VendEngine platform is the Grievance Management System.
“The incarcerated individual can literally just go on the kiosk, tablet, or hand-held for free and put in their grievance. That gets immediately sent to the administration for response,” said Deane. “If the individual is not satisfied with the response, they can also use the system to file one or more appeals.”
Importantly, the Grievance Management System provides a safe way for a resident to privately and discreetly make a complaint against another resident or a corrections officer, as needed, without feeling intimidated, ensuring that the complaint is recorded and being handled appropriately.
“Incarcerated people may feel that there's no outlet for them to go to ask for protection or to be taken seriously,” said Mandye Robinson, general manager of corrections for Tyler Technologies, which recently acquired VendEngine. “With this grievance system, there is also a process for investigating those complaints to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.”
Filing grievances electronically also allows prison staff to avoid potential risks of a face-to-face interaction with an aggrieved individual and provides a record of response and actions.
PREA and Suicide Alerts
Another module that helps ensure inmate safety is the instant alert system that allows a resident to self-report PREA situations or report a suicide attempt. Notifications go straight to the designated personnel for immediate action so residents can be removed from a dangerous situation. “This module has literally saved dozens of lives,” said Deane.
Email, Text Messages and Video Visitation
The ability to maintain ties with friends and family on the outside is known to enhance residents’ well-being and reduce recidivism, but in many facilities, the cost of placing a phone or video call is often prohibitively expensive. VendEngine keeps the cost of emails, texts, phone calls, and video visits low for the incarcerated and free to family members so they can keep relationships strong without breaking the bank. Using AI tools, the electronic messages and videos are monitored in real time, recorded and stored for later retrieval if necessary.
Legal and Educational Resources
The VendEngine legal portal also offers access to a free, updated digital law library that includes both state and federal laws.
“We provide them with full, free law libraries and other features so that the resident feels like they have the power to research and reference their own cases,” said Deane. “Access to legal libraries is a fundamental right for any incarcerated person.”
Other modules available through the portal allow incarcerated individuals to watch self-help videos, learn soft skills, take GED courses, learn a trade and earn a certification that will help put them on more solid footing when they re-enter society.
Giving incarcerated residents digital access to a law library and educational resources not only helps the individual prepare for life on the outside, it helps jail staff as well. Allowing them to research their cases from a kiosk, tablet or hand-held device in their housing block reduces the amount of time correctional officers spend moving inmates through the facility.
Preparing for life on the outside
As an incarcerated individual nears their release date, they can access additional resources to help prepare them for life on the outside.
- The VendEngine Work Release Management module allows facilities to manage the movements, income, fines, and fees of work-release residents.
- VendEngine also helps to connect residents with outside resources like job placement programs, housing and nutrition assistance programs, mental health and educational resources, transportation and personal development programs so they can have the support they need to thrive when they are released from prison.
Using data to see the big picture
With every action ─ whether responding to a medical or grievance request, delivering a commissary request or screening communications ─ VendEngine creates an electronic record. These electronic records are accessible on the administrative side of the platform so jail administrators can get an accurate, up-to-date picture of their health, activities, case status, concerns and progress toward release.
Being able to have one set of data pulled from multiple sources helps ensure that facility staff have the most up-to-date information and can make better decisions on behalf of facilities, prison staff and the individuals who are incarcerated.
“I think it's important that people understand that we are paying for incarceration in one way or another, whether that's financially or hardship on families,” said Robinson. “Creating solutions that help meet people where they are helps to solve those problems. Technology is one piece in a bigger picture of helping to solve the weight of incarceration.”